Far Truth Is For Extremes

To answer the question posed in my last post, here are some situations where it makes sense to forgo the large benefits of things like religion, to care about far truth:

  1. You are stuck in your ways, like a smoking addict. You admit it would have been better for you had you become more religious early on, but alas you fell in with the wrong crowd, and now the costs of change for you outweigh religion’s gains. If you are nice, you’ll warn young folks to avoid your downfall.
  2. Contrarian far claims with big personal consequences are true. If choosing cryonics would gain you five or more expected years of life (over its costs), and you are one of the rare people who would actually do something so contrarian after being intellectually convinced of its advantages, and if you can reliably discern when a majority is wrong, then you’ll need to think accurately about far topics to find such opportunities. For non-contrarian far claims with personal consequences, you could just follow the crowd without thinking.
  3. You have a good chance of being respected as a far topic expert, by a community that evaluates claims in truth-correlated ways. If you could be a famous cosmologist, you might try to create cosmology claims that will look good when evaluated by the tests cosmologists will apply. The gains from becoming a famous cosmologist could outweigh the risk that by becoming more truth oriented you will forgo religion’s gains. Beware, however, that truth-correlated is not the same as true – most communities say their far claim tests are more truth-correlated than they actually are.

So assuming you actually have a viable choice, the situations where it makes sense to reject religion in favor of far truth are extreme – either there are big personally-useful far contrarian claims to learn, or you have a good shot at being a rare far expert, respected by a community with truth-correlated standards. So if such extremes seem unlikely to you, far truth probably isn’t worth its costs to you. Go away, and sin no more.

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  • Ryan

    I think the framework presented is bizarre.

    1) Your past intellectual framework presents what it means to be human as a matter of status-seeking tendencies from evolutionarily created organisms, not that human beings are actually consciously engaging in maximizing behavior. As such, why should your concerns motivate the organism in question? Atheists are probably atheists because a) They cannot identify easily with existing religious structures, b) they do identify with high status atheists, c) their existing frameworks, due to path-dependency of beliefs, commit them to continued atheist belief, and d) the evolutionarily and culturally provided mechanisms for winning arguments/showing intellectual power commit them to atheism as the truth.(After all, presumably truth can win status games) Telling them about some set of costs of being non-religious should not really change their minds on the matter, as for most of them, religion is no-longer a live option a) and c), and it certainly cannot appeal to their status-seeking tendencies b) and d). I mean, the reason why smokers warn against smoking is not likely just due to health-issues, but also due to status issues. If smoking were glamorous, do you think the warnings would be given? I suspect a lot of career paths have costs on overall happiness, but we don’t hear a lot of those kinds of warnings. Even those who are uncertain at this point probably still will not register your complaints as valid.

    2) I am not really sure it’s WRONG for human beings to value these things. I am not even sure where the value criticism can begin, other than to argue that some truths “break the spell” for certain moral frameworks, but even then it isn’t as if reinvention of these concepts can’t be done as they’re always done. I mean, human beings are attached to the far-values that make them human, and without those I have doubts that forsaking these outright will ever be considered reasonable, and certainly not a BETTER notion.

    3) Don’t these kinds of claims really suggest perhaps “metacontrarianism” on your part? (see related lesswrong post) I mean, the claim to escape from status-seeking is bizarre, and the quest to debias is itself potentially questionable. However, this claim of yours does fit into a pre-existing pattern of behavior which we can identify in other persons, through this it can be made to fit your pre-existing narratives, and frankly, I doubt that this argument will ever be compelling to anybody, as it relies on a model of human motivation that no human practices.

    I could be entirely off the mark, but I get the feeling that this is clever but I can’t imagine anybody to ever be persuaded.

  • JP

    Putting aside the question of whether I’d be capable of actually changing my religious beliefs, the main reason I’m not interested in becoming more religious is that very few of the benefits you listed would improve my life.

    It seems that religious folks tend to be happier, live longer, smoke less, exercise more, earn more, get and stay married more, commit less crime, use less illegal drugs, have more social connections, donate and volunteer more, and have more kids.

    Of all of these things, I already have a level of conscientiousness and self-control that allows me to not smoke or use drugs, exercise regularly, work professionally, have a stable marriage, refrain from crime, and be a good parent. That leaves being happier, having more social connections, and donating and volunteering more. In short, I could make some new friends at a church — but I already can become happier and make new friends by making more time to participate in any new community.

  • Dremora

    4. Contrarian far claims with big ethical consequences are true.
    If the majority undervalues true hypothesis with huge ethical consequences, and if you can affect some of those consequences at relatively low personal cost, and if you are sufficiently altruistic, then accepting true contrarian far claims is good.

  • J Storrs Hall

    4. You believe far truth is a public good, and advance it from a spirit of personal sacrifice for the general welfare.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Dremora and J Storrs, that level and scope of altruism is exactly the sort of thing where I say it seems far more likely that evolution would have given us an inclination to believe we had, so that we can look good to others, than that it would have actually given us.

    • http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~criedel/ Jess Riedel

      I don’t understand. You say “look at how you act with regards to altruism. You aren’t really altruistic. You just want to look good, as determined by evolution”. In other words: revealed preferences. Fair enough.

      Then you say “Evolution has made you want near things, not far ideals. Therefore, you should reject far truth in favor of the near happiness you really want.” Why do you say people are making a mistake, rather than take their actions as evidence that they really want far truth?

    • Strange_Person

      You know a really straightforward way to convince myself that I’ve made the world a better place, which avoids the cognitive costs of a prolonged campaign of deception, is hard for potential social competitors to discredit, and has a variety of other long-term benefits?

      Actually go out and make the world a better place, then do the research afterward to be sure it worked.

    • Dremora

      Homo hypocritus is not implausible. But intrinsically motivated low-cost altruism is a well-documented human phenomenon (with measurable individual differences partially linked to genetics). And it is possible that accepting contrarian far claims could show not commonly accepted but realistic ways to do relatively much good for low cost.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    #1 applies to me, except I’m not particularly nice.

  • richard silliker

    “Go away, and sin no more.”

    Good advice.

    We are unable to change the past. However, we may atone for it. Behave so the context of your life is rational and you may find that the “far truth” is closer then you ever imagined. Humanity has been removed so far from the machine that we fail to see the most obvious truths.

    What makes you think religion does not support far thinking?

  • Bryan

    It’s ironic that the contrarian view now seems to be pro-religion.

    Robin has just downgraded his reader’s status as thinkers from contrarian to mainstream.

    • not ironic

      It isn’t ironic — it’s exactly what you’d expect if Far Beliefs function more as Fashion Statements than as Expectations. Too many unsophisticates are displaying an Atheist badge!

      applying the basic tools of rationality to the God Hypothesis is easy, so I’m somewhat surprised it has remained fashionable as long as it has.

  • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

    I see there as being non-negligible negative consequences to far delusion which apply more in aggregate than to individuals. For example, religious people are less likely to be scientists. Even assuming most nonreligious people still don’t become scientists (and thus are more likely to represent harm rather than benefit), if the proportion that do become scientists is higher for causal reasons and if the marginal value of scientists to society is high enough, it is better for more people to be nonreligious.

    This case might be made with respect to other kinds of educated academics as well, but I think it is strongest with regards to STEM disciplines, which are the most useful. Another interesting question: do the religious people who become educated usually go into science, technology, engineering, and math at the same rates as the nonreligious, or do they prefer other less useful academic areas?

  • Bryan

    Luke, the important thing is to respect religion because it does many things we don’t fully understand. Believing is besides the point people!!!

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    5. In many situations there are significant positive personal consequences to lacking religious conviction while maintaining the external appearance of being religious. It’s better for your genes if you can seduce your parishioner’s wives while using your pastor’s pulpit to exhort their husbands to provide for who they believe are their children (at least until they catch you). Unobtrusively sneaking away from a holy war, or not putting up a religious fight if your co-religionists’ armies are steamrolled by another team, are another example. Homo hypocritus is alive and kicking ass in the church as well.

    Of course, for a signed-up and paid-for cryonicist like me, religion does not sound appealing, whatever benefits it may provide. To each his own.

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  • Evan Daniel

    I don’t think self-deception is a habit or skill set I wish to cultivate. I suspect the skills for both deception and avoiding deception translate non-trivially (if not completely) between far truth and near truth. I would much rather have habits of avoiding self-deception in near truth cases, and I would prefer to apply those habits overzealously to far truth cases than risk weakening them in near truth cases.