Sam Harris - Idiot?

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Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Tue Apr 16, 2019 4:50 pm

I remember Hitchens saying around the time of his death, when he was bald, ravaged and withering (and I paraphrase): "I'm thinking of converting to Christianity in order that when I die there will be one less believer in the world." You have to admire such commitment.

chenda
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by chenda » Wed Apr 17, 2019 3:45 am

Hitchins was a good showman with a quick mind but imo it covered up religions critiques which were mediocre at best. He wasted his talents on a producing a lot of well written nonsense.

Interestingly his brother, a right wing Daily Mail journalist, has become a practicing Christian after seeing a vision of the hellfires. He's a written a book called The Rage Against God. I don't think the brothers got along too well.

Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Wed Apr 17, 2019 5:09 am

When arguing against religion, specifically Christianity, I got the idea that Hitchens needed it to not be true more than he believed it to not be true. I have a two-cent opinion why but it's just speculation. It just seemed very personal to him. He admitted during the debate that he never heard of the Christian understanding of the noetic effects of sin which was surprising in that its a pretty significant issue. That being said, I wouldn't want to stand him down. His need and failure to receive Gore Vidal's mantel was kind of pathetic. That being said, the guy could be a beast, like he was on Kissinger.

chenda
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by chenda » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:33 am

@jason Agreed. The idea of New Atheism as fulfilling people's religious needs seems quite plausible. The notion of no god or afterlife might be reassuring for some.

I see Dawkin's crew have actually designed a symbol which you can wear, presumably in lieu of a cross or the shahada, to show the world you are saved from religion. It makes me laugh. There must be a business opportunity for selling busts of Dawkins for the new atheists to do their daily puja to. (Can you copyright a head ?) I think this actually happened to Epicurus in ancient times.

That said, I do enjoy listening to them and finding faults in their arguments. It's strengthened my religious beliefs.

Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:55 am

As they say, removing belief in God does not mean you now believe in nothing, it means you will now believe in anything. Power abhors a vacuum so some ultimate commitment will take its place.

In watching Hitchens last appearances, he remained militantly opposed to providing himself any type of comfort except to acknowledge that he was a random, insignificant, element of the universe. His response to the question did he ever ask "why" he got cancer, was "the real question is to ask why not." He stayed true to his beliefs, but it was very painful to watch, at least for me.

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Mon May 13, 2019 10:16 pm

Jason wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:55 am
As they say, removing belief in God does not mean you now believe in nothing, it means you will now believe in anything.
I am on board with this idea. To me, it appears that the ways of thinking associated with mechanics, systems, and statistics should be mostly isolated from each other (just a general rule of thumb). Scientific optimism and religious fundamentalism conflate them (..or any other -ism).

Mechanical thinking works when dealing with organized simplicity. All parts of the whole can be accounted for in this domain, and prediction is reliable.

Statistical thinking works with disorganized complexity and is based on probability theory. No order is assumed, but the degree of randomness can be calculated. This way of thinking can quantify the limitations of knowing and approximate the correlations between measurable features in a system. Predictable unpredictability.

Systems thinking deals with organized complexity (i.e. everything in-between). Much of the thinking in this domain is story-like where objects are woven together using weak links in a linear fashion to aid comprehension. This "linearization" unavoidably leads to over-fitting the examples available in memory(*).

I do not much care what stories people focus on; diversity of systemic belief is probably more stabilizing in the aggregate. The only real metric of rationality is survival, so the most rational beliefs for a population are the ones that have lasted the longest in that population. As far as I can tell, the only exceptions to this rule are beliefs based on mechanics or statistics (due to the ease of repeatable testing).

(*) The two major forms of bias are related to false associations (metaphorical error) and limited availability (sampling error). Over or under fitting reality often emerge from a combination of both. Humans are bad at intuitive statistics, but we are great at propagating memes that may or may not increase fitness.

Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Tue May 14, 2019 12:10 pm

I don't know if there is an equivalency between the staying power of a system and its rationality. I would argue its more likely the power of the myth attached it that allows people to continue to believe in it when it isn't working or there are cracks in it. And of course, people's definition of a system is not uniform. Ask people what democracy means to them and see how diverse the explanations are.

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Tue May 14, 2019 12:40 pm

Not the staying power of a system, but the staying power of a meme or meme set in a population. If a meme set in a population survives for hundreds or thousands of years, then the individuals may be gaining an adaptive advantage from believing it (individuals in a similar circumstance reproduced thus far believing it).

For instance, if a tribe believes in a superstition that is obviously wrong (to modern folk) but keeps individuals in the tribe from engaging in a potentially fatal activity, then perhaps it is rational for individuals that are born into that population to obey that 300 year old meme. They would be foolish to think they are aware of all outcomes, and time is the ultimate authority. The Lindy effect: "the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindy_effect

I am just saying that I do not think there is a better definition of rationality given the context of evolutionary theory. It is essentially related to the meme "if it isn't broken, don't fix it", and this meshes well with chaos theory where controlling a part could ruin the whole.

I think this shines an interesting light on Sam who claims to be "rational", but he is really just making up "new" stories based on "science" that are convincing to modern folks and their idiosyncratic definitions. Good for him, but perhaps not great for his followers that have more skin in the game.

Also see: https://medium.com/incerto/how-to-be-ra ... 2e96dd4d1a

Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Tue May 14, 2019 2:18 pm

I think before you define rationality, you have to provide your basis or source for it i.e you need to account for how you can count. The first by-product of removing God, is the removal of a heteronomous source of rationality and replacing it within something inside the "world." In most instances, it is now located within the human mind i.e. autonomous human reason. Previously, man placed the source rationality in something outside himself and his ability to be rational was dependent on that outside source. Now he believes he is inherently rational or at least capable of being rational or reaching rationality independently. That is both the historic and theological shift. My point is, if you remove God, you are changing the grounds of where rationality is located and that itself is a "meme."

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Tue May 14, 2019 3:13 pm

Hmm, that makes sense from a "western" point of view. I suppose that the difference between an "external" and "internal" source is not as sharply defined for me as the difference between "old" and "new". Form my perspective, it seems that counting the number of years a meme has been in circulation is more reliable than trying to locate the source. Generally, in information theory it does not make much sense to ask where information is positioned precisely.

I was thinking more along the lines that removing a belief in God will create a void that is subject to more "randomness", and whatever fills the void has not yet survived the test of time(*). It is quite possible that I am not explaining my view well enough, because I think we all make assumptions based on our intuition of "how things work".

(*) ..or maybe it has and Dawkin's was correct to think religions are "programs" that hack our per-existing operating system?! Always invert :).

Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Tue May 14, 2019 4:15 pm

As opposed to East or West, old or new, just use the basic types of thought systems: theistic, pantheistic, materialistic. That's it. And that's all there ever was. God outside the system, god inside the system, no God/god outside or inside the system. There are distinctions within the categories, but all thought systems fall within one of the three categories. Information theory might say it does not identify the source of information, but the practitioner of information theory necessarily does because his/her ultimate commitment to whatever view of reality he/she holds lurks beneath. A Christian, a Buddhist and an atheist can agree on information theory on a certain level, but ultimately they are disagreeing on the source of the information based on their understanding of how that information entered into the world and how they are processing said information. Take two biologists looking at a tree. One is a theist, one is a materialist. They will agree on a lot of things about that tree, how it grows, how it feeds itself, how it helps other life. But when it gets to where that tree came from, well, there is going to be some serious ass disagreement. Simply put, there are no brute facts. We are always interpreting them and we interpret them based on which category we fall into. The theist tree guy and the materialist tree guy are disagreeing on some real important issues and viewing that tree completely differently from one another whether they realize it or not.

The removal of God does not necessarily remove randomness. A materialist may be determinist or non-determinist. They might believe that the world itself is an accident or a random event but that which occurs within it is not. Or they might just que sera que sera through it all. A pantheist might believe in many worlds but creates order by instilling a notion of karma. You might say you believe in randomness, but you do so within the assumption that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. If you want to say it's a daily coincidence, you have the right to do so. But I would purport that's not how you really feel about it.

chenda
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by chenda » Tue May 14, 2019 4:37 pm

@jason - very interesting. Would not the first two be reconcilable - god can be both inside and outside the box, whereas materialism must preclude the other two ?

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Tue May 14, 2019 4:59 pm

Jason wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 4:15 pm
The removal of God does not necessarily remove randomness. A materialist may be determinist or non-determinist.
I was saying the contrary. The removal of a belief in God would increase randomness (then in my footnote acknowledged the inverse).
You might say you believe in randomness, but you do so within the assumption that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. If you want to say it's a daily coincidence, you have the right to do so. But I would purport that's not how you really feel about it.
I would say that my true beliefs are beyond/before words. I have assumed a lot in this context that I would normally be agnostic towards. In absence of abstraction, there are no boundaries/distinctions/labels/names. Everything and nothing is just one. No counting is possible in this "state". What category does that fall in?

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Tue May 14, 2019 5:18 pm

It appears that I just described something called "existence monism". I am not really sure what I believe. I have "acted" as if I was both materialistic and pantheistic.

Jason
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by Jason » Tue May 14, 2019 6:02 pm

(@) Chenda

Theism believes in a creator God, who exists in eternity, before the creation of the world. He is not dependent on the world to exist. The world and everything in it, is, well, optional. This implies a creator/creature distinction and an eternity/time distinction. It also creates an epistemological distinction not only quantitatively but qualitatively. It also implies a substance distinction. In Pantheism, there are no such distinctions. The god or gods need the world, the world needs the gods. There is no creator/creation distinction, there is no eternity/time distinction. There are no substance distinctions, nor epistemological distinctions. To a Pantheist, the world is eternal. To a theist, God is eternal, the world is not. They have different explanations for why things happen. A theist will say providence, a pantheist, karma. These differences create different ethical relationships. In theism, you are a subject to the God and must obey Him. There is no such relationship in Pantheism. Theism has a teleological end where the ethical relationship between humans and God is decided and either rewarded/punished. Pantheism does not. This creates deep epistemological distinctions in how members of each group interpret the world and their ultimate role and end in it.

(@) Daylen

A theist would chalk up the ineffable to the majesty, power, and glory of God. A pantheist would attribute the ineffable to his/her ever-changing, eternal, relationship to nature and/or the universe. A materialist, I would surmise, to an as of yet unsolved mystery, or undiscovered dimension of the physical universe. It's not to say there is not cross-pollination. Everyone marvels at outer space. Well, everyone except me because I hate fucking outer space. But why exactly they are marveling is for different reasons.

No one acts consistently within their belief systems. A theist who doesn't get a promotion may still punt his terrier across the living room instead of saying it was God's plan. My mother once cried when I told her she was going to hell. I was like, why you crying bitch?Two minutes ago you said you didn't believe there even was a Hell. A theist would attribute the inconsistency to the noetic effects of sin. The materialist might just claim to be agnostic and is expressing a view but not completely committing to it. A pantheist might just say they were probably a materialist in a different life.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed May 15, 2019 7:13 am

I guess I am a pantheist to the extent that I find biology inherently more interesting than physics or politics.

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jennypenny
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by jennypenny » Wed May 15, 2019 12:06 pm

@daylen-- When you use the term meme, do you mean it like 'value'? Beliefs are pretty specific and by the nature of the terminology are require a bit of faith and an outside 'something' to believe in. Values are inherent principles, many of which like the golden rule have survived for millennia by being incorporated into various belief systems. I see values more like memes in that sense. They are pervasive truths that outlive belief systems. They are also what former believers tend to take with them when they fall away from their faith.

Am I making any sense? That memes are values (truths) and beliefs are narratives designed to systematize values? (and control believers to some extent) It's why beliefs are a much easier path to meaning than values. Longevity gives some idea of which values are most 'human' at their core.

(sorry if this has been discussed upthread and I missed it)

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Wed May 15, 2019 1:56 pm

@jenny Yeah, when I say meme I am thinking more of a value than a belief. I like to think of a meme or value as a "unit of cultural evolution", but the exact 'form' of a particular meme is never fully understood. This is complementary to the idea that the precise effect of a particular gene on the phenotype is never fully understood but their form is known. I was conflating values and beliefs above if that is the case, but the distinction between values and beliefs you highlight makes sense to me.

In this sense, beliefs are [more] identifiable and put evolutionary pressure on the underlying values. This begs the question.. "how much pressure?". The answer seems to depend on the size of a population, the number of alternative beliefs, the clustering coefficient, and the average path length between nodes (nodes are people, edges are interactions or communication channels). At any scale, small worlds tend to emerge with a high degree of clustering and short path distances. In modern times, it is fairly easy to travel between clusters, so perhaps beliefs tend to reinforce and isolate people that travel to clusters which fit their pre-existing value allocation well. In ancient times, people typically stayed put in their local cluster where one belief system was dominate. On the other hand, Silicon Valley is slowly homogenizing the culture of the world right now. I am not really sure how to make sense of all this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small-world_network

It can also relate to the left-right distinction (where left controls economy/ecology and right controls culture/language), and to the authority-liberty distinction (degree of control). Globalization has sort of made these boundaries obsolete. The whole system is in a uni-stable state, so there is not much sense in trying to hold part of it constant. It just is what it is, and soon it will not be.

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Wed May 15, 2019 2:15 pm

To clarify, memes cannot be measured directly, but in a given cluster they can be approximated by ranking the most frequently used words or phrases with respect to the local language. The ranking for a given level would trend towards a Zipfian distribution.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zipf%27s_law

daylen
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Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Post by daylen » Wed May 15, 2019 3:23 pm

Actually, I can make sense of all this! At the center of it all is the attention-currency market.

Zipf's law seems to be emergent from energy constraints; if the purpose of communication is to reach understanding, then both the sender and receiver want to use a channel encoding that represents the most common ideas with the fewest bits (this is also related to the layout of letters on your keyboard).

There seems to be a global bubble emerging (dominated by Silicon Valley, English, internet business, etc.) that has one such encoding, and there are many smaller bubbles/clusters that have a more specialized encoding (more formal and deep). The specialized encodings are becoming more task-specific so that the global engine can identify and measure attention for the purpose of converting it into the dollar! A larger number of small bubbles means a better approximation of how efficient a particular conversion technique is. The micro-languages are formalizing axioms and deepening conclusions; in other words, they are being compartmentalized.

The Pareto of money is coupling to the Pareto of symbols.

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