nhaliday + blog   190

Dividuals – The soul is not an indivisible unit and has no unified will
Towards A More Mature Atheism: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/towards-a-more-mature-atheism/
Human intelligence evolved as a social intelligence, for the purposes of social cooperation, social competition and social domination. It evolved to make us efficient at cooperating at removing obstacles, especially the kinds of obstacles that tend to fight back, i.e. at warfare. If you ever studied strategy or tactics, or just played really good board games, you have probably found your brain seems to be strangely well suited for specifically this kind of intellectual activity. It’s not necessarily easier than studying physics, and yet it somehow feels more natural. Physics is like swimming, strategy and tactics is like running. The reason for that is that our brains are truly evolved to be strategic, tactical, diplomatic computers, not physics computers. The question our brains are REALLY good at finding the answer for is “Just what does this guy really want?”


Thus, a very basic failure mode of the human brain is to overdetect agency.

I think this is partially what SSC wrote about in Mysticism And Pattern-Matching too. But instead of mystical experiences, my focus is on our brains claiming to detect agency where there is none. Thus my view is closer to Richard Carrier’s definition of the supernatural: it is the idea that some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things.


Meaning actually means will and agency. It took me a while to figure that one out. When we look for the meaning of life, a meaning in life, or a meaningful life, we look for a will or agency generally outside our own.


I am a double oddball – kind of autistic, but still far more interested in human social dynamics, such as history, than in natural sciences or technology. As a result, I do feel a calling to religion – the human world, as opposed to outer space, the human city, the human history, is such a perfect fit for a view like that of Catholicism! The reason for that is that Catholicism is the pinnacle of human intellectual efforts dealing with human agency. Ideas like Augustine’s three failure modes of the human brain: greed, lust and desire for power and status, are just about the closest to forming correct psychological theories far earlier than the scientific method was discovered. Just read your Chesterbelloc and Lewis. And of course because the agency radars of Catholics run at full burst, they overdetect it and thus believe in a god behind the universe. My brain, due to my deep interest in human agency and its consequences, also would like to be religious: wouldn’t it be great if the universe was made by something we could talk to, like, everything else that I am interested in, from field generals to municipal governments are entities I could talk to?


I also dislike that atheists often refuse to propose a falsifiable theory because they claim the burden of proof is not on them. Strictly speaking it can be true, but it is still good form to provide one.

Since I am something like an “nontheistic Catholic” anyway (e.g. I believe in original sin from the practical, political angle, I just think it has natural, not supernatural causes: evolution, the move from hunting-gathering to agriculture etc.), all one would need to do to make me fully so is to plug a God concept in my mind.

If you can convince me that my brain is not actually overdetecting agency when I feel a calling to religion, if you can convince me that my brain and most human brains detect agency just about right, there will be no reason for me to not believe in God. Because if there would any sort of agency behind the universe, the smartest bet would be that this agency would be the God of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa. That guy was plain simply a genius.

How to convince me my brain is not overdetecting agency? The simplest way is to convince me that magic, witchcraft, or superstition in general is real, and real in the supernatural sense (I do know Wiccans who cast spells and claim they are natural, not supernatural: divination spells make the brain more aware of hidden details, healing spells recruit the healing processes of the body etc.) You see, Catholics generally do believe in magic and witchcraft, as in: “These really do something, and they do something bad, so never practice them.”

The Strange Places the “God of the Gaps” Takes You: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2018/05/25/the-strange-places-the-god-of-the-gaps-takes-you/
I assume people are familiar with the God of the Gaps argument. Well, it is usually just an accusation, but Newton for instance really pulled one.

But natural science is inherently different from humanities, because in natural science you build a predictive model of which you are not part of. You are just a point-like neutral observer.

You cannot do that with other human minds because you just don’t have the computing power to simulate a roughly similarly intelligent mind and have enough left to actually work with your model. So you put yourself into the predictive model, you make yourself a part of the model itself. You use a certain empathic kind of understanding, a “what would I do in that guys shoes?” and generate your predictions that way.


Which means that while natural science is relatively new, and strongly correlates with technological progress, this empathic, self-programming model of the humanities you could do millenia ago as well, you don’t need math or tools for this, and you probably cannot expect anything like straight-line progress. Maybe some wisdoms people figure out this way are really timeless and we just keep on rediscovering them.

So imagine, say, Catholicism as a large set of humanities. Sociology, social psychology, moral philosophy in the pragmatic, scientific sense (“What morality makes a society not collapse and actually prosper?”), life wisdom and all that. Basically just figuring out how people tick, how societies tick and how to make them tick well.


What do? Well, the obvious move is to pull a Newton and inject a God of the Gaps into your humanities. We tick like that because God. We must do so and so to tick well because God.


What I am saying is that we are at some point probably going to prove pretty much all of the this-worldy, pragmatic (moral, sociological, psychological etc.) aspect of Catholicism correct by something like evolutionary psychology.

And I am saying that while it will dramatically increase our respect for religion, this will also be probably a huge blow to theism. I don’t want that to happen, but I think it will. Because eliminating God from the gaps of natural science does not hurt faith much. But eliminating God from the gaps of the humanities and yes, religion itself?

My Kind of Atheist: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/08/my-kind-of-athiest.html
I think I’ve mentioned somewhere in public that I’m now an atheist, even though I grew up in a very Christian family, and I even joined a “cult” at a young age (against disapproving parents). The proximate cause of my atheism was learning physics in college. But I don’t think I’ve ever clarified in public what kind of an “atheist” or “agnostic” I am. So here goes.

The universe is vast and most of it is very far away in space and time, making our knowledge of those distant parts very thin. So it isn’t at all crazy to think that very powerful beings exist somewhere far away out there, or far before us or after us in time. In fact, many of us hope that we now can give rise to such powerful beings in the distant future. If those powerful beings count as “gods”, then I’m certainly open to the idea that such gods exist somewhere in space-time.

It also isn’t crazy to imagine powerful beings that are “closer” in space and time, but far away in causal connection. They could be in parallel “planes”, in other dimensions, or in “dark” matter that doesn’t interact much with our matter. Or they might perhaps have little interest in influencing or interacting with our sort of things. Or they might just “like to watch.”

But to most religious people, a key emotional appeal of religion is the idea that gods often “answer” prayer by intervening in their world. Sometimes intervening in their head to make them feel different, but also sometimes responding to prayers about their test tomorrow, their friend’s marriage, or their aunt’s hemorrhoids. It is these sort of prayer-answering “gods” in which I just can’t believe. Not that I’m absolutely sure they don’t exist, but I’m sure enough that the term “atheist” fits much better than the term “agnostic.”

These sort of gods supposedly intervene in our world millions of times daily to respond positively to particular prayers, and yet they do not noticeably intervene in world affairs. Not only can we find no physical trace of any machinery or system by which such gods exert their influence, even though we understand the physics of our local world very well, but the history of life and civilization shows no obvious traces of their influence. They know of terrible things that go wrong in our world, but instead of doing much about those things, these gods instead prioritize not leaving any clear evidence of their existence or influence. And yet for some reason they don’t mind people believing in them enough to pray to them, as they often reward such prayers with favorable interventions.
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june 2018 by nhaliday
Contingent, Not Arbitrary | Truth is contingent on what is, not on what we wish to be true.
A vital attribute of a value system of any kind is that it works. I consider this a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for goodness. A value system, when followed, should contribute to human flourishing and not produce results that violate its core ideals. This is a pragmatic, I-know-it-when-I-see-it definition. I may refine it further if the need arises.

I think that the prevailing Western values fail by this standard. I will not spend much time arguing this; many others have already. If you reject this premise, this blog may not be for you.

I consider old traditions an important source of wisdom: they have proven their worth over centuries of use. Where they agree, we should listen. Where they disagree, we should figure out why. Where modernity departs from tradition, we should be wary of the new.

Tradition has one nagging problem: it was abandoned by the West. How and why did that happen? I consider this a central question. I expect the reasons to be varied and complex. Understanding them seems necessary if we are to fix what may have been broken.

In short, I want to answer these questions:

1. How do values spread and persist? An ideology does no good if no one holds it.
2. Which values do good? Sounding good is worse than useless if it leads to ruin.

The ultimate hope would be to find a way to combine the two. Many have tried and failed. I don’t expect to succeed either, but I hope I’ll manage to clarify the questions.

Christianity Is The Schelling Point: https://contingentnotarbitrary.com/2018/02/22/christianity-is-the-schelling-point/
Restoring true Christianity is both necessary and sufficient for restoring civilization. The task is neither easy nor simple but that’s what it takes. It is also our best chance of weathering the collapse if that’s too late to avoid.

Christianity is the ultimate coordination mechanism: it unites us with a higher purpose, aligns us with the laws of reality and works on all scales, from individuals to entire civilizations. Christendom took over the world and then lost it when its faith faltered. Historically and culturally, Christianity is the unique Schelling point for the West – or it would be if we could agree on which church (if any) was the true one.

Here are my arguments for true Christianity as the Schelling point. I hope to demonstrate these points in subsequent posts; for now I’ll just list them.

- A society of saints is the most powerful human arrangement possible. It is united in purpose, ideologically stable and operates in harmony with natural law. This is true independent of scale and organization: from military hierarchy to total decentralization, from persecuted minority to total hegemony. Even democracy works among saints – that’s why it took so long to fail.
- There is such a thing as true Christianity. I don’t know how to pinpoint it but it does exist; that holds from both secular and religious perspectives. Our task is to converge on it the best we can.
- Don’t worry too much about the existence of God. I’m proof that you don’t need that assumption in order to believe – it helps but isn’t mandatory.

Pascal’s Wager never sat right with me. Now I know why: it’s a sucker bet. Let’s update it.

If God exists, we must believe because our souls and civilization depend on it. If He doesn’t exist, we must believe because civilization depends on it.

Morality Should Be Adaptive: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/04/morals-should-be-adaptive.html
I agree with this
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Antinomia Imediata – experiments in a reaction from the left
So, what is the Left Reaction? First of all, it’s reaction: opposition to the modern rationalist establishment, the Cathedral. It opposes the universalist Jacobin program of global government, favoring a fractured geopolitics organized through long-evolved complex systems. It’s profoundly anti-socialist and anti-communist, favoring market economy and individualism. It abhors tribalism and seeks a realistic plan for dismantling it (primarily informed by HBD and HBE). It looks at modernity as a degenerative ratchet, whose only way out is intensification (hence clinging to crypto-marxist market-driven acceleration).

How come can any of this still be in the *Left*? It defends equality of power, i.e. freedom. This radical understanding of liberty is deeply rooted in leftist tradition and has been consistently abhored by the Right. LRx is not democrat, is not socialist, is not progressist and is not even liberal (in its current, American use). But it defends equality of power. It’s utopia is individual sovereignty. It’s method is paleo-agorism. The anti-hierarchy of hunter-gatherer nomads is its understanding of the only realistic objective of equality.


In more cosmic terms, it seeks only to fulfill the Revolution’s side in the left-right intelligence pump: mutation or creation of paths. Proudhon’s antinomy is essentially about this: the collective force of the socius, evinced in moral standards and social organization vs the creative force of the individuals, that constantly revolutionize and disrupt the social body. The interplay of these forces create reality (it’s a metaphysics indeed): the Absolute (socius) builds so that the (individualistic) Revolution can destroy so that the Absolute may adapt, and then repeat. The good old formula of ‘solve et coagula’.

Ultimately, if the Neoreaction promises eternal hell, the LRx sneers “but Satan is with us”.

Liberty is to be understood as the ability and right of all sentient beings to dispose of their persons and the fruits of their labor, and nothing else, as they see fit. This stems from their self-awareness and their ability to control and choose the content of their actions.


Equality is to be understood as the state of no imbalance of power, that is, of no subjection to another sentient being. This stems from their universal ability for empathy, and from their equal ability for reason.


It is important to notice that, contrary to usual statements of these two principles, my standpoint is that Liberty and Equality here are not merely compatible, meaning they could coexist in some possible universe, but rather they are two sides of the same coin, complementary and interdependent. There can be NO Liberty where there is no Equality, for the imbalance of power, the state of subjection, will render sentient beings unable to dispose of their persons and the fruits of their labor[1], and it will limit their ability to choose over their rightful jurisdiction. Likewise, there can be NO Equality without Liberty, for restraining sentient beings’ ability to choose and dispose of their persons and fruits of labor will render some more powerful than the rest, and establish a state of subjection.

equality is the founding principle (and ultimately indistinguishable from) freedom. of course, it’s only in one specific sense of “equality” that this sentence is true.

to try and eliminate the bullshit, let’s turn to networks again:

any nodes’ degrees of freedom is the number of nodes they are connected to in a network. freedom is maximum when the network is symmetrically connected, i. e., when all nodes are connected to each other and thus there is no topographical hierarchy (middlemen) – in other words, flatness.

in this understanding, the maximization of freedom is the maximization of entropy production, that is, of intelligence. As Land puts it:

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march 2018 by nhaliday
Marginal Restoration | Veracity is the heart of morality
“The Great Liberal Death-Wish” (1966)
- Malcom Muggeridge

The readiest explanation in years to come of this evident contradiction between the objectives and consequences of liberalism is likely, I should have thought, to be that, despite its seemingly sanguine and benevolent character, liberalism in reality represented a collective death-wish. Like individuals, civilizations in decline, consciously or unconsciously, want to be extinguished; liberalism is the primrose-path to extinction. There is a story (probably apocryphal) that in the days of the Third Reich a Nazi procession included a contingent of liberal intellectuals bearing the banner: ‘Down With Us!’ Had they but known it, they were speaking on behalf of all liberals everywhere.


Orwell, in his enchanting fable Animal Farm, in his brilliant analysis of double-speak and double-think as projected by the Ministry of Truth (based, as he told me, not on a Nazi or Fascist or Soviet model, but on the BBC), worked it all out superbly in imaginative detail. He made only one mistake. He envisaged the nightmare as being imposed by ruthlessly efficient power-maniacs, not realizing that it had been born and nourished in the finest, most civilized, and most humane minds of our time, including his own. For our Dark Ages, it is we ourselves who are turning out the lights, fondly supposing that we are turning them on.

I am a senior applied math major at Yale.
I’m interested in demography, sociology, economics, moral psychology, and political theory.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Colin Percivel's homepage
interesting links to Hacker News highlights
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october 2016 by nhaliday
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