Re: The Extropian Religious War--thank you

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sat Jul 14 2001 - 16:40:15 MDT


Thank you very much for such a thorough, thoughtful and rich

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> Samantha Atkins wrote:
> >

> > Is life only about "correct conclusions"?
> I don't know. But I don't think that incorrect conclusions have any part
> to play in it. And the human mind, as we are all fond of saying, is
> complicated. If a way of thought - whatever its other effects - leads me
> to form incorrect conclusions, not just of a temporary and transient type,
> but of a long-lasting and self-rationalizing type, then it isn't worth
> it. I'll stick with rationality in the here-and-now, and if there's some
> irrational element that's really important, I'll get around to it after
> the Singularity, when it isn't so dangerous.

I very much appreciate this point. This possibility is one of
the reason that I have fought against my own spirituality as
often as I have. Great care must be taken not to overthrow
rationality in the desire for the supra-rational or for aspects
of the problem of being that cannot be easily approached with
the tools of rational analysis.

Finding the balance where all of one's tools are brought to bear
without undercutting one another and where all aspects of what
we care about can be dealt with well is my goal.

But I don't believe we can wait until post-Singularity to deal
with these problems and aspects. I think they are critical to
our ever reaching Singularity with the best hope of having more
abundant being (or any at all) afterward and of moving with much
less strife and needless suffering to the Singularity now and in
the coming years.

> Actually, I *don't* believe that any ways of thought that lead to
> incorrect conclusions will turn out to be ultimately important. I think
> that "being in harmony with the Universe", a "clear pool", an undistorting
> mirror, i.e., correct conclusions, is the sigil of all things worthy of
> care.

> But that's really almost irrelevant.

That one sat me up in my chair. How can all things worthy of
care be "irrelevant"?

> A human being is a seed, in the same
> way that present-day civilization is a seed. Most of my effort goes into
> protecting the civilization, rather than myself, but I can't really know
> what's worth defending unless I at least think about what I'd be defending
> if I was defending myself. And the answer, on an individual level, and on
> a civilization level, is that what must be defended above all is
> potential.

The potential is contained within the actual. So the actual
must be defended at least in its aspect of containing and
nurturing/bringing to fruition the potential. Much of the
importance of these things that are lumped under spirituality
and the supra-rational, supra-scientific (if you will forgive
the phraseology) is that they are about granting deep value to
the potential and most of all, some of them are about what is
necessary for the potential to become actual.

> So I tend to be really unfond of self-reinforcing incorrect beliefs that
> will probably lead a great many people to refuse to take part in the
> Singularity for utterly wrong reasons. I'm very suspicious of your
> assertion that there might be something to be valued in spirituality,
> unless you can give me an example of something specific to be valued. I
> expect value only when I have reason to do so. But people often "want" to
> see value, in one of the many awful cases where human thinking distorts
> the premises to make the conclusions less uncomfortable. I see that as a
> negative force in the Universe. So I'm suspicious.

To me spirituality is about the apprehension and the actual
creation of the deepest and most truly glorious potential
possible. That is the heart of the matter.

Also I am deeply concerned than in our rush to singularity we
sometimes tend to strip away everything that makes us less
technologically focused or that might give us pause. Even if
there is reason to pause and consider. I am especially
concerned when it seems that an intellectual elite, devoted
perhaps in an unbalanced extreme to technology and science, will
decide the shape of the future of all human beings forever
without necessarily understanding or enrolling those human
beings or with a deep enough committment to their well-being.
This doesn't apply so much to you, Eliezer (and some others
here), as I know of your deep committment to the well-being of
all. But it is something that very much concerns me.

It also concerns me when I don't see that we really are
conceiving of what we will do with our power and our freedom on
a deep enough level. I don't see how we are generally preparing
ourselves by envisioning the type of being we wish to be and be
part of creating clearly and what measures we should be taking
now to best insure and bring into actuality of this outcome.
Again, Eliezer (and others), I know that you do give much
thought to this.

I also believe that unless you can enroll more of humanity in
this enterprise of creating the kind of future we envision there
will be a lot of conflict, chaos and death that was not
necessary. Even if I believed fully that science and rational
inquiry were the only necessities and all of what is required,
there is no way that you can spread that view and committment to
it to very much of the population quickly enough to make a
difference. The timeframe is extremely short. In view of this
I believe it is essential that a spiritual/religious set of
memes relevant to creating this vibrant vision of the future and
making it real also be created and deployed.

I pledge to do everything in my power to make it so for the sake
of humanity and for the future that we all desire.

> > If a different way of
> > looking at my life, what I am doing, what we are all doing and
> > what can come of it integrates into something that strengthens
> > my ability to contribute maximally and may help others to do so
> > then that is in itself quite important.
> >
> > Can a vision of the type of future you wish to create come only
> > from rationality or do you need to add quite a few different
> > elements and include a large dose of what you would most like to
> > see, do what you can to weave it into a unity and then look for
> > tools and memes to encourage it to come into being? Is this all
> > a rational process or are only rational tools such as science
> > and logic allowed in forming the vision and in encouraging it
> > into reality?
> I think perhaps you underestimate the powers of rationality. Perhaps you
> have, in your life, drawn on spirituality in places where I have learned
> to draw on rationality. I hope not. As far as I'm concerned, I've
> achieved what I've achieved because of my determination to always walk the
> path of rationality, including in places where rationality is not commonly
> used because it looks a little difficult. And the reason is that I had
> enough past experience to predict that even if the path of rationality
> looked a little difficult, sticking to the problem and not giving up at
> first glance would yield results eventually. So far, this strategy has
> always paid off really big.

I understand and very much appreciate this. But I think that on
examination there is more to this rationality of yours than what
many delimit the term to. Spirituality, true spirituality, also
requires this kind of rigourous honesty and not shrinking from
the problem. Spirituality is not at odds with rationality but
can underly and extend beyond it (or at least what most mean by

> In particular, rationality has the power to judge which "arational"
> elements of the mind are important, whether or not they're too dangerous
> to be used, and where their place is in the larger scheme of things. One
> of the things I really object to is the idea that rationality is somehow
> "incomplete", that there's something outside rationality that has the
> power to dictate whether I should be rational, rather than the other way
> around. I've simply never found anything like this. I've never found
> anything even close.

I would tend to use the word "Reason" here more than rationality
but I understand your point. When you formed the goal of
devising a means for dealing with the coming Singularity that
would limit the amount of suffering and enable the most to
survive it, do you think that formulating that goal itself came
only from rationality or did it come from a deeper valuing core
of yourself that used rationality as the very best means to
acheive this? What is that deeper part?

There are moments when the reason/rationality is not discarded
but where the reasoning mind simply rests and seeks and awaits
apprehension of that which is deeper by means different from
those employed by reason.
> What I have found, though, is that rationalizers and rationalizations of
> all kind are very fond of making this claim, with respect to flawed ways
> of thinking that my rational mind can easily understand, encompass,
> visualize, and accurately predict.

It is most certainly true that many do this. But this does not
mean that there is nothing beyond rationality or of a deeper
type than what is generally conceived of as rationality. There
are levels, if you will, of rationality that are different than
what most people mean by that.
> > Religions are great tools for weaving visions. For good and
> > ill. They are also quite good for cohering societies devoted at
> > different levels to common goals. And I believe some of these
> > systems have quite a lot to say about letting go of your current
> > mental/emotional lockstep and redefining and reintegrating
> > yourself. This is a very important skill for what most of us
> > contemplate doing and becoming.
> Again, I use rationality for that.

You use rationality and again, something that you include in
rationality that is beyond what I think many mean by the term.

> > > Even so, I wouldn't want to be religious because, to my mind, it's better
> > > to be rational and strive to improve that rationality than to do something
> > > that has short-term benefits but is crippling in the long term. But what
> > > I'm asking for here is an example of even a short-term cognitive benefit,
> > > and by that I mean "coming up with a right answer", and not alleged lower
> > > stress levels and so on.
> >
> > Isn't this a bit circular? You say it is better to be rational
> > and improve that rationality but exactly what is that to you and
> > what do you use to validate that conclusion as best? What makes
> > you believe that all spirituality/religion is crippling in the
> > long term? In point of fact it seems not to be so for many
> > spiritual/religious-ly inclined people.
> Do they still believe wrong things? Are they ready to give up those wrong
> beliefs if they are disproved? Or are they more likely to doubt the
> (correct) disproof and even begin to inveigh against the Bayesian
> Probability Theorem itself? It is this perniciously self-protective
> quality that I refer to as "crippling" because it results in people
> digging themselves deeper into their holes.

There are many levels of human beings.

Some are always willing to examine and give up their
mis-comprehensions for better. Some of these believe
rationality is the only or best tool for evaluating
comprehensions and some do not think it necessarily is or
believe there are other tools also needed.

Some are caught in particular thought, pschological and social
forms that they have identified so strongly with that they find
it very difficult to even consider changing. Some of these also
consider rationality/science as they comprehend it as the only
or best way, some not.

But as many of all types as possible need to as much as possible
be given a positive vision of what is to come and some means of
helping it come into being.

> > Is the 'right answer" the only thing important? I growing into
> > a saner, more caring, more generous person of less worth than
> > getting some cognitive "right answer"? Is living life with an
> > inner calmness even in the midst of the most strenuous and
> > hectic activity so worthless that that without any extra "right
> > answer" is of no worth?
> I use rationality for that, too.
> I have lived my life according to the principle that if you pursue the
> right answers, other things come to you; if you pursue other things at the
> expense of truth, then you will simply wind up building stronger and
> stronger shackles for yourself, and you will achieve neither truth nor
> those other goals that were so important to you.

I know you do and I deeply honor and respect the way and the
incredible extent to which you do that.
If you will forgive my saying so, you are a profoundly spiritual

> My answer, then, is that I don't know whether "correctly modeling the
> Universe" is the ultimate meaning of life, but I very definitely know that
> correctly modeling the Universe is important to protecting this
> civilization as it heads into Singularity, and even without that, I would
> still never step aside from the path of correctly modeling the Universe
> even if it made me temporarily happy, because I would fear that by doing
> so, I was destroying a part of my own potential.

That is profoundly moral.

> I think that the best thing I can do to protect the potential of others is
> to encourage them to use self-criticizing systems like rationality, and
> argue against any suggestion that some other system is somehow "outside"
> rationality. In practice, the sole use of that belief is always to
> protect mental wrongnesses from healthy ways of thinking. Of course
> mental cancers want to avoid the slings and arrows that are sent their
> way, so of course people who haven't learned to think painful thoughts are
> very happy with the idea that their pet theories are magically immune to
> the discomforts that are being provided by their own innate intuitions and
> external sources such as scientists. But I view discomforting intuitions
> as part of a healthy mind, and discomforting scientists as part of a
> healthy society.

I disagree that saying there is something deeper than reason
itself is solely to protect wrong thinking. There are simply
places in the fabric of truth and of deep value that cannot be
reached by reason alone. But as a very dedicated jnana yogi,
one who takes reason to its utmost limits and through reason
will go even beyond those limits (whether you realize it or
not), I know you will find that out for yourself.

Only very young beings think that no discomfort is involved in
becoming fully whole, alive and plugged into the fabric of Being
and Becoming or that their is some shortcut that will be as

Scientists are not the only source of healthy and necessary

- samantha

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