Month Review

It might be premature to hold a blog review before even a month has passed from the first post. Then again, Premature might as well be the tag line to the blog, and so it seems oddly consonant with what has come before.

What came before?

The way in which this blog is done was inspired by Otium and meditationstuff. Sarah talks about the importance of speculative thinking, Mark puts out posts that are just good enough so that he can build up to the things he cares about. DC Reade points to pitfalls of speculative thinking and I think he is correct. I’ve been denying myself writing for a long time. The process of getting stuff clear enough that I could get to what I actually wanted to get at was dispiriting. So I didn’t.
I wanted to know if writing in this style would stabilise my ideas and allow new ones to flow.
The answer is a resounding yes. I sometimes catch my mind in the process of refactoring previous posts, and reorganising them. I have also had substantially more good speculations. The process of spitting out stuff as soon as it is not-totally-terrible has worked. Cross linking helped to build up thinking.
The next step is to go back and edit. Refactor the topics, edit the thinking for accuracy (since I went for scope over precision and justification) and then check if I can stabilise them into chunks that I can think from/with/about. (One way of looking at what I’m doing is trying to balance between narrative rationality and traditional rationality. Narrative came first) (Another way is that I have been doing a random walk to break out of local maxima)

Ze Review, proper

I have written roughly 33000 words over 28 blog posts, one post a day, an average of 1200 words per essay. This is roughly half a book according to amazon apparently, so, yey?
With regards to form  it seems that I took the everything is a remix idea, and the “great artists steal” idea of T.S. Elliot/Picasso/Banksy seriously. There are extensive quotations, commentary, linking, idea representation, and rehashing. This is fine, and I’m happy with it – it annoys me that the first sin in academia is plagiarism instead of triviality.
And so the blog became a pastiche/collage by necessity – I want to say more then what my patience allows me, and thus it all is rough.
With regards to content, the blog is surprisingly consistent. It seems that I’m engaging in experimental thinking (by analogy to experimental music or art) in the sense that whatever is put here is not crystallized in movement or patterns yet. Even more surprising, there are consistent motifs through the writing.
  • Map making (aliefology, beliefology)
  • Transcending rationality (criticising rationality, heuristic creation)
  • Worldview building (reaching for yellow, lovecraftian monsters)
  • Communication/Discourse (how to)
  • Sense making of my experience (1)

I care about each of these topics, and they are still very much open – I have landed on a field with multiple directions to explore and there is still very much to see. I expect the future essays (after The Great Refactoring) to deal with the same topics. Let’s see. It has been exciting.
And speaking about excitement, I want to thank Mark for encouraging me to start and holding my hand throughout. Mark encouraged me to start a twitter account which led to some interesting conversations (The last one with David Chapman. *blushes*). Thank you also to the 14 people that decided to follow my blog.

All in all, a successful 28 days of blogging.

Is intuition God? -> social aliefology
God and rationality-> social aliefology
S1, S2 and superego -> criticism of rationality
Aliefology and Beliefology -> aliefology and beliefology
Transformative Practices and Isolation -> sense making of my experience, communication
Developmental views and rationality -> criticism of rationality
Origin of variance heuristic -> heuristic generation, map-making
Epistemic Virtues-> communication, epistemology
Definitions matter-> map-making, social beliefology
Imprudent formalisation -> criticism of rationality
You can’t optimise anything, literally -> criticism of rationality
Modelling map aggregation -> map-making, social aliefology
Theories as maps, theories as engines  -> map-making, social aliefology, second-order worldview building
Overanalysing shock-> sense making of my experience
Considerations on heuristics for map-making: your naive reasoning mechanisms suck -> criticism of rationality, heuristic creation, individual aliefology
Angst and Lovecraftian Monsters-> worldview building
Reason eating itself -> criticism of rationality
On why speaking to hedgehogs doesn’t come naturally to me -> communication, sense making of my experience
Why I don’t want to make my models explicit->  sense making of my experience

Is intuition God?

(A continuation of God and Rationality.)

Yesterday I said that it is an interesting fact in need of explanation that the same dialectic seems to come up again and again through history. I said I would propose some possible explanations for this, and today I will.


Proposed explanations

Nothing to be explained

The first explanation is an anti-explanation that question there being a fact to explain in the first place. It might be that there is nothing to explain. This could be the case in at least two ways:

– One is simply that this is a statistical unlikely event, but that given the quantity of ideas being debated throughout human history it can only be expected that one keeps going throughout the times as others are falsified and then dead for good (Aether). The belief that there is something to be explained is then just a hasty generalisation.

– The other is that there is a selection effect in our view of history. There is always something illuminated and something darkened by necessary information compression. Since humans are compressing historical information one can. Seeing history from modern eyes we pick up some parts and hide others and it seems like we can make this red thread throughout the development of ideas. Apparently this is called presentism. (Of course, one could imagine that there are incentives to do this, like professional philosophers looking for distinguished precursors to legitimize their current pursuits. But this is terribly uncharitable.)


Something to be explained

The other option is that there is something to be explained. If so, there are two sub-options. First, the debate is about the “same”, and in the second it is not. We explore these in turn, fully aware that this is a continuum over a categorical distinction and that “same” is not the correct level of analysis.


Same debate

This is a tough sell maybe in part because we, modernly, have a linear vision of the world. There was a beginning, and there will be an end, a judgement day. Other religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, are cyclical – history is cyclical, repeating itself.

So, how could we say that the debate is the same? The way to say this is that memetic evolution in this debate has been solely about form, not content. The same thing has been discussed be it asking how the City of God and the City of Man relate and how S2 and S1 relate, there being apologists for either, and compatibilists.

Now, these obviously sound very different. How could they be the same? You can imagine that what is being really discussed, really referred to is never caught by any of these signifiers, and that the invariants of the human mind work as cultural attractors that make this idea come up again and again.

Another possible argument is that since theology does not causally connect to anything, it fails to refer – at some level – then there can be no progress and in fact the same debate is always being had. This could generalise to debates that don’t connect in general.


Debate changes

Ken Wilber has a model of knowledge development going through three phases – differentiation, separation and integration. For example, he claims that in pre modernity Art, Morals and Science were fused. Modernity then differentiated these three and separated them. This general model can be used to understand the dialectic of the development of ideas.

Eugene Gendlin talks about a “thinking that employs more than conceptual logic, rules, or distinctions”. The reference to experience to go beyond what has already been put under concepts, language and logic. In his method one uses concepts to stabilise experience to go beyond it, further and further. Experience is very precise because it crosses many meaning and there is this dialectical play between what has already been referred to, and how it changed by virtue of having been referred to.

Cantwell talks about the computer science term “unbundle” in On the Origin of Objects.

And of course, the quote I’ve referred to previously: “Before I had studied Ch’an for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.”

I think all of these are circling the same idea. The topic is always the same, in some sense, but you get increased nuanced, increased precision, increased differentiation; and not “dead” precision either as the map changes as you get more precise.

One of the most interesting books I skimmed recently is Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies. He attempts to uncover the logic behind the history of ideas. He posits the following theory: Intellectuals interacting create an argumentative community. Intellectuals are actors battling to partition a limited attention space. There can not be more than 6 or less than 2 intellectual positions as these define themselves by oppositions to others. Two main strategies are available to intellectual actors: contradiction and synthesis. Finally, intellectual communities thrive on reflexivity and abstractness. If all these hold, then this explains the dialectic above. Contradiction creates separation, and synthesis creates integration. Reflexivity and abstractness allows to go one level up and repeat the procedure. (You had a division between reason and experience – rationalism and empiricism – and now you have a clear integration be it in x-rationalists or modern theory of Judgement and Decision-Making. Very few people even take the original division seriously anymore, they can’t, there was synthesis) (Increasing reflexivity and abstraction is seen in philosophy. Debates of positions become debates about how to know, and thus of epistemology and we just keep going up to reach metametaphysics and metaphilosophy contemporary)

Collins’ theory explains how it is that the debate changes whilst seeming the same. I’m uncertain about what actually is happening in this case.






  • “same” is wrong here. A more precise view of what is changing and how and why and generalising. Relook at history of philosophy. What stays the same? What changes? How does it change?
  • The “same” debate is terribly unlikely, except for the case in which things don’t connect – terms fail to refer, in some sense. This seems like an interesting avenue of exploration.

God and Rationality

Konkvistador probably wanted to go into the details of the state work and state/church separation and how the State interacts with God, and with reason. I just want to talk about the history of the relationship of God and reason. Or, more accurately, to do a historical summary of the relationship between revelation and reason, from the Early Middle Ages to our present day. In doing so I want to investigate the question of whether people are being pwnd by ideology.

Historical overview

Early Middle Ages

Augustine of Hippo, Aurelius Augustinus or St. Augustine wrote the City of God:

“The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 left Romans in a deep state of shock, and many Romans saw it as punishment for abandoning traditional Roman religion for Catholic Christianity. In response to these accusations, and in order to console Christians, Augustine wrote The City of God, arguing for the truth of Christianity over competing religions and philosophies and that Christianity is not only not responsible for the Sack of Rome, but also was responsible for the success of Rome. He attempted to console Christians, writing that, even if the earthly rule of the Empire was imperiled, it was the City of God that would ultimately triumph.”

St. Augustine was trying to respond to the sack of Rome. Part of what he wanted to do was to justify religious belief. Can it be justified through reason, or faith/revelation, or both?

“Augustine’s eyes were fixed on Heaven, a theme of many Christian works of Late Antiquity, and despite Christianity’s designation as the official religion of the Empire, Augustine declared its message to be spiritual rather than political. Christianity, he argued, should be concerned with the mystical, heavenly city, the New Jerusalem—rather than with earthly politics. The book presents human history as being a conflict between what Augustine calls the Earthly City (often colloquially referred to as the City of Man) and the City of God, a conflict that is destined to end in victory for the latter. The City of God is marked by people who forgot earthly pleasure to dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of God, now revealed fully in the Christian faith. The Earthly City, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world.”

“Augustine was one of the first Christian ancient Latin authors with a very clear vision of theological anthropology. He saw the human being as a perfect unity of two substances: soul and body. In his late treatise On Care to Be Had for the Dead, section 5 (420 AD) he exhorted to respect the body on the grounds that it belonged to the very nature of the human person. Augustine’s favourite figure to describe body-soul unity is marriage:caro tua, coniunx tua — your body is your wife. Initially, the two elements were in perfect harmony. After the fall of humanity they are now experiencing dramatic combat between one another. They are two categorically different things. The body is a three-dimensional object composed of the four elements, whereas the soul has no spatial dimensions. Soul is a kind of substance, participating in reason, fit for ruling the body.”

Augustine was a strong compatibilist between faith and reason. But more importantly, he set and popularised the dichotomy that influenced all further Christian theology

Middle Ages

By the Middle Ages there was not only the distinction  between the domains of scienta and faith but also the generalised conviction how the first (scienta, episteme, reason) was limited to make claims about matters of the second. This follows from Augustinian ideas, if there are two separate worlds, then it needs to be decided how one can get to know each world.

This state of affairs gave the opportunity to St. Thomas Aquinas to become the most illustrious Doctor of the Church. Thanks to Averroes, Aristotle had been reintroduced in Europe (which caused panties to get in a bunch). Aristotle defended reason as divine or partly divine, and this allowed Aquinas to attempt to synthesize reason and revelation, to make them compatible, against the current held Zeitgeist.

“Thomas believed that truth is known through reason (natural revelation) and faith (supernatural revelation). Supernatural revelation has its origin in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is made available through the teaching of the prophets, summed up in Holy Scripture, and transmitted by the Magisterium, the sum of which is called “Tradition”. Natural revelation is the truth available to all people through their human nature and powers of reason. For example, he felt this applied to rational ways to know the existence of God.

Though one may deduce the existence of God and his Attributes (Unity, Truth, Goodness, Power, Knowledge) through reason, certain specifics may be known only through the special revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The major theological components of Christianity, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are revealed in the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures and may not otherwise be deduced.”

That was his position on the double truth issue. Double-truth theory is the view that religion and philosophy, as separate sources of knowledge, might arrive at contradictory truths without detriment to either. Of course, sparked by the dichotomy that Augustine had set up.

High Middle Ages

Aquinas ended not being as influential as he had desired. After he had died Luther would spark the Reformation – which was massively influential. Being a skeptic of philosophy (reason) to get to God he promoted the Sola Fide (By faith alone) doctrine where one could get to God just holding on to the interior spark of the divine. Faith then had precedence over reason.
“Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason but none about loving God, which to Luther was more important. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt, and he thereafter developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle over the latter’s emphasis on reason. For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.”
“Some have asserted that Luther taught that faith and reason were antithetical in the sense that questions of faith could not be illuminated by reason. He wrote, “All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false.” and “[That] Reason in no way contributes to faith. […] For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things.”

Modern period

The Enlightenment
That the Enlightenment is know as The Age of Reason should point as to what was winning the reason/faith fight by then.
The Enlightenment is the date where rationalisation and secularisation overthrow theology’s 1000 years hold on philosophy. Theological issues get reduced to a secondary status.
Interestingly, Descartes had managed to put reason and God on the same side. In his quest for absolute certainty he came up with the idea of an evil demon, that had been deceiving him forever. Thus, he could not be certain of any of his beliefs. After using this to justify his radical skepticism, he starts rebuilding his beliefs anew from immediately grasped and absolutely certain intuitive truths. He first build God, and secondly claims that God has all perfections and no imperfections and that the will to deceive is an imperfection. It thus follows that God exists (which he had derived before) and that God cannot be a deceiver. Thus, reason can get to higher truths by building up from immediately grasped and absolutely certain intuitive truths because God exists and is not a deceiver.
Whereas St. Thomas Aquinas was absolutely focused on God and uniting faith and reason was a secondary interest due to his admiration for Aristotle, Descartes was absolutely focused on reason having God as a crutch to his philosophical system.
German Romanticism
German Romanticism is a  reaction against the Enlightenment. Romanticism was “a European cultural revolt against authority, tradition, and Classical order (the Enlightenment); this movement permeated Western Civilization over a period that approximately dated from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. In general, Romanticism is that attitude or state of mind that focuses on the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the creative, and the emotional.”
The idea of the passions pitted agains reason was old -deriving from Roman Stoicism, where the Stoics sided with reason. Being a reaction to the Enlightenment the Romantics sided with emotion, and pitted emotion against reason.

Contemporary Period

Stretching the faith (revelation by God) vs reason dichotomy as far as I can, we can find it in the contemporary Zeitgeist. It is played as listening to “your heart over your head”, or listening “to your gut” – likely influenced by Romanticism.

The psychology of judgement and decision-making has further refined these notions but is still reliving the same frame. The Heuristics and Biases approach sets up 2 systems pitted against each other, a slower smarter one and a faster brute-force one. It then claims that one needs to overcome the intuitive responses with the slower system to achieve the correct answers (reason over the interior spark of the divine). The Fast and Frugal Heuristics approach launches into an apologia of the interior spark of the divine claiming that gut feelings or intuitions (revelation) are in the right except in artificial, contrived situations.

I’m confident this dialectic plays out in more places. The religion vs science wars seems to be the extreme polarisation of the positions of incompatibilism, each taking a different side. The non-overlapping magisteria idea by Gould is a modern dualistic, incompatibilist idea aiming at peaceful coexistence. (As reason progresses it destroys more and more of what faith holds and thus compatibilism becomes increasingly impossible.)

(Aquinas eventually won out, at least in Christian theology)


It should be clear from this analysis that modern beliefs about rationality are very much historically situated. (I think the demonstration is not needed in the case of Descartes given that his first step in his philosophy, after extreme skepticism, was to prove the existence of God.) I limited myself to the history of theology, not undertaking a history of the concept of rationality proper.
Clearly, the history of theology approach taken to history of ideas was elucidating. In hindsight, this is not surprising: philosophy was theology for 1000 years, we’ve only had them separated for some 300 years. I talked about the importance of philosophy for situating world views here.
Other interesting connections spring to mind once we take this history of theology approach:
  • The relationship between the City of God and the City of Man, is seen in Descartes as mind vs body (mind is nonmaterial substance and does not follow the laws of nature). In contemporary philosophy of mind you have qualia to fill the soul-shaped hole.
  • Free will. Originally how to explain that ‘divine foreknowledge’ – God’s knowledge of what will happen in the future – is compatible with free will. Now how to connect a mechanistic deterministic universe with human freedom.
It is interesting that we see the same or similar dialectic playing out through the ages. This is a fact in need of explanation. In the next essay I look at some possible explanations.

Modern(ised) Philosophies for Living

I have a love-hate relationship with contemporary philosophy. I’m in the love with the need for it, the idea of it, the concept of it. But contemporary philosophy mostly annoys me.

Life is for living, and I want a practical philosophy of life, not reinterpretations of what Husserl thought that Kant thought about noema. I once read a description of modern philosophy and it went something like “Nature has cursed them with feeble bodies, and they take revenge by creating artificial systems.” And I think this is somewhat unfair, but not totally unfair.

Yes, thought, yes considerations, yes thinking, yes reflecting. But not to the exception of all else.

Plato means “broad shoulders” – Plato was, besides a philosopher, a champion wrestler.

Sure, we got through scholasticism in which we wasted our best philosophical minds to the study of theology.

And yes, sometimes ontology and metaphysics seem to be too far from real life to be of any use and I think they matter a bunch, and yes we need philosophy to examine our presuppositions. Sure. But not to the exclusion of all else.

And maybe I’m strawmanning all the way to Hell, but maybe not.

Modernised Philosophies for Living

On the difference between analytical and Continental philosophy:

“The heart of the analytic/Continental opposition is most evident in methodology, that is, in a focus on analysis or on synthesis. Analytic philosophers typically try to solve fairly delineated philosophical problems by reducing them to their parts and to the relations in which these parts stand. Continental philosophers typically address large questions in a synthetic or integrative way, and consider particular issues to be ‘parts of the larger unities’ and as properly understood and dealt with only when fitted into those unities.” (p.10.)

So analytic philosophy is concerned with analysis – analysis of thought, language, logic, knowledge, mind, etc; whereas continental philosophy is concerned with synthesis – synthesis of modernity with history, individuals with society, and speculation with application.

Neil Levy sees this methodological difference as well; in Metaphilosophy, Vol. 34, No 3, he describes analytic philosophy as a “problem-solving activity,” and continental philosophy as closer “to the humanistic traditions and to literature and art… it tends to be more ‘politically engaged.” Hans-Johann Glock remarks in  The Rise of Analytic Philosophy that “analytic philosophy is a respectable science or skill; it uses specific techniques to tackle discrete problems with definite results.”

So maybe philosophies for living would not be found in philosophy anymore and I’m just looking in the wrong place (1). It seems like therapy might be a place where to find them.

Scott talks about his field view on CBT: “I was taught the following foundation myth of my field: in the beginning, psychiatry was a confused amalgam of Freud and Jung and Adler and anyone else who could afford an armchair to speculate in. People would say things like that neurosis was caused by wanting to have sex with your mother, or by secretly wanting a penis, or goodness only knows what else. Then someone had the bright idea that beliefs ought to be based on evidence! Study after study proved the psychoanalysts’ bizarre castles were built on air, and the Freudians were banished to the outer darkness. Their niche was filled by newer scientific psychotherapies with a robust evidence base, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and [mumble]. And thus was the empire forged.”

CBT seems to be all the rage in rationalist circles because it is evidence-based. (It certainly is not because of how it appeals to the idea of “Change your thought patterns, change your life”, which of course is what debiasing appeals to.)

And CBT is mostly a rebranding and refashioning of Roman Stoic Philosophy.

Stoicism being, obviously, a philosophy for living:

  • If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now. (VIII. 47, trans. George Long)
  • Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors. (III. 7, trans. Gregory Hays)
  • Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on. (V. 9, trans. Gregory Hays)
  • […] As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes has no value for him. (III. 4, trans. Maxwell Staniforth)
  • Take away your opinion, and there is taken away the complaint, […] Take away the complaint, […] and the hurt is gone (IV. 7, trans. George Long)
  • Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good. (IV. 17, trans. George Long)
  • Of the life of man the duration is but a point. (II. 17, trans. C.R. Haines)

So maybe the least resistance path is to modernise old philosophies for living? Paint them in the modern color and use those as scaffolds to build off? (As this attempt at painting a rational, scientific, naturalistic take on Daoism)

Modernising Philosophies for Living

As far as I can see this idea of “philosophy of life” is reduced to a profile detail in dating websites. I also understand that to question worldview in such a way you need to reach a certain ego level. But I think this is very much a necessary project.

Religion has provided guidelines for years, and with the death of god fast approaching this project will be increasingly needed. (Most people that stop being deistic keep up remnants of Christianity – the case I know – once they leave it. Belief propagation isn’t automatic, it is a painfully long process. European society is built on Christianity. I don’t know what will happen when this particular Schelling point for morality and social behaviour is gone. Maybe just fundamentalism and consumerism. Hopefully.)

And I think the thesis above is great and that it needs to get out of paper and be acted upon and distributed. And I think CBT is great, but that the barrier of having to seek out therapy and find it is too high for it to be distributed.

But there is something that is not too high, in fact, that has a low barrier to entry, given the way humans are built: religion.

And this is why I’m so excited about Chapman’s effort to naturalise Buddhist Tantra. Tantra is for living, and life is to be lived.

Tantra is “an attitude; a stance; a way of being. It is the attitude of passionate and spacious engagement with this world. It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality.” “The excitement starts when you realize there is a whole religion built on this attitude. There is a system for putting the vision into practice, for intensifying and developing it, for making everything you do consistent with it.”

Yes, please.




  • Philosophy can’t deal with these earthly concerns because the sociology of intellectuals is such that you gain attention by being more abstract and reflexive, and lose it by being less
  • Why was there an explosion of schools go philosophy for living in ancient Greece, China?
  • on post-atheism
  • secular solstice


S1, S2, and Superego

Brienne has posted on LW about simulating and deferring to more rational selves. The core idea is that you take an outside view on yourself and then act based on that outside view. “What would rational-me do in this situation?” and then do that.
I think this is a great idea. I also think it is a terrible idea. Following I explain why.


This can be a really good hack. It clearly has worked for Brienne.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is this, in a nutshell. You stop struggling with whatever is happening, trying to flee from it, and
instead accept and embrace it and you act in a way that respects your values despite how you feel, despite what-it’s-like to be you in that moment. You just keep going, you just soldier on.
You (in LW- speak) let go off the inside view and take the outside view on yourself instead. “What would you have wanted to do?” You (in ACT-speak) stop being fused with your thoughts, evaluating and avoiding your experience, and reason-giving for your behaviour. And instead you accept your reactions, you recall the values you have decided as being the more important to you, and you act on them. (ACT, get it?)
And ACT apparently works.


Besides the necessary note that Brienne has been doing meditation for a whole lot of time and thus has muscles you don’t know you have, I think this can be terrible for other reasons.
Kahneman has conclusively shown that humans fail to behave according to the normative standards of rationality, probability and logic. And maybe they can get better, but there is no evidence from this from debiasing research thus far. Further, if Gigerenzer is correct, there can be no debiasing in principle, for the most part.
And thus what Brienne framed as outsourcing to rational-Brienne is actually outsourcing to a particular normative frame that you think works/is good/desirable.
And this leads to the problem of normativity: you really don’t want to choose the wrong normative frame and constantly S2 override your S1 desired because of it. As Mark said:
“And, geez, I say this all the time, but with great power comes great responsibility. You should be really, really, really, really sure that this isn’t one of those times that System 1 is being brilliant, not stupid. Otherwise, you hurt yourself if you override repeatedly. (Like, maybe you should eat those mixed nuts, because maybe you need that selenium–and people typically lose weight eating nuts, anyway–but, yeah, that selenium. System 1 is brilliant, in its own way.)

And there are certain games where System 1 always wins in the end, like with sexuality. You use System 2 to constructively engage with System 1. Otherwise, System 1 will eat you alive. It’s like the alcoholic who somehow convinces themselves that walking into the bar is precisely what they need to do to keep from having a drink.

For some things, System 1 always wins in the end, if you fight it head on–a very dangerous long-term game to play.”

You can match the S2 mind to the public and private mind, and the S1 mind to the experiential mind. One way of causing massive trouble for yourself is to take whatever normative systems society gives you and let them slide from your public mind into your private mind and actually overriding your S1 to be able to behave according to them. Some part of you will literally embody this system.
And this is problematic. So problematic and so frequent that we need super-ego therapies to deal with these overgrown agents. (The super-ego being, of course, just the internalisation of societal normative systems.)

Conclusion, sort of

I don’t have a solution (Did I ever?) but noticing this is a problem is of value. I agree with Hilbert that formulating a problem is half of the solution. I feel that one quarter is recognising that you have a problem, and that is where such analyses help and stuff like Focusing are invaluable.

Aliefology and Beliefology

We have talked about weird effects that occur in what I called Social Descriptive Epistemology. I want to get a more precise description of what it is that we are studying. To that purpose in this essay I introduce and explain aliefology and beliefology and speculate about future avenues for investigation and how to use that information.

In particular I go into detail about Individual Descriptive Aliefology, suggest a standpoint and various heuristics and show how to take advantage of the knowledge of the existence of these heuristics to create a better map.


Aliefology and Beliefology

Phenomenon of Study                                                                  

Actual Beliefs Claimed Beliefs
Social Social Descriptive Aliefology Social Descriptive Beliefology
Individual Individual Descriptive Aliefology Individual Descriptive Beliefology


Aliefology is the study of how an agent or set of agents come to believe X.

Beliefology is the study of how an agent or set of agents claim to have come to the belief that X.  Individual and Social refer to the level of analysis.

A lot of focus on this blog has been on how to build an appropriate map. I think that the study of aliefology and beliefology at the individual and societal level are, together, a  crucial lever to create a map fast.

I think this lever is what both Thiel and Graham found in the context of pushing the lever to make money.  Thiel talks about secrets: “Back in class one, we identified a very key question that you should continually ask yourself: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? To a first approximation, the correct answer is going to be a secret. Secrets are unpopular or unconventional truths. So if you come up with a good answer, that’s your secret.” and Graham about “What can’t you say?”

They are clearly circling the same topic here, although they did not divide it as I do.

What is gained by dividing it as I did is that you can start talking about various categories of mismatches more precisely. Things that are aliefed at the societal level, and claimed to not be believed. Things that are claimed to be believed and are not aliefed, at the societal level (See the whole of Overcoming Bias). Things that are aliefed, and claimed to be believed for a reason, but in fact are aliefed for a totally different reason.

And this enhanced precision is possible even before starting to classify the beliefs and aliefs as true or false.

To demonstrate what this study may look like, in the next section I speculate about Individual Descriptive Aliefology.


Individual Descriptive Aliefology

I sense that naive realism is the default human epistemological stance – the folk epistemology if you will. I suspect this because you need to go up in levels to figure out that naive realism doesn’t obtain and most of the population is achieving the formal operations level at which this is a possibility (and may or may not be pursued)

The other reason to sense this is the case is that it took 9 Eliezer-essays to explain that the map is not the territory. (Of course, evidence I can easily share, the stronger reason for this idea are year-hours of observation of people talking and speaking.)

Besides the default epistemological sense I think we can reverse-engineer what heuristics people are using by looking at several areas:

  • Rhetorics
  • Persuasion
  • Fallacies
  • Bias

I consider these to be descriptions of what works, with the job of individual aliefology being to systematize them, and understand why they work.

Rhetorics and persuasion techniques are codifications of what has historically worked to convince people.  Fallacies are patterns of thought that lead to incorrect conclusions that happen so frequently that they got codified as such, being a special case of bias, as they relate to arguments.

Following I describe several possible heuristics that are being used in individual aliefology.

  • Futuristic heuristic

“Discount things that sound futuristic”

  • Movie-like heuristic

Generalizing from fictional evidence

  • Conspiracy theory heuristic

“Discount things that can be called conspiracies” (That this heuristic exists is shown by the fact that conspiracy theory is used as a term of ridicule and works as a semantic-stop sign)

  • Authority Heuristic (newspaper, tv, internet)

“Trust authoritative figures/institutions ”  (That this is a heuristic is show by the fact that social sciences have needed to coin credentialism: “reliance upon formal credentials conferred by educational institutions, professional organizations, and other associations as a principal means to determine the qualifications of individuals to perform a range of particular occupational tasks or to make authoritative statements as “experts” in specific subject areas”)

  • Status quo bias

Prefer what is the case

  • Politicized Heuristic

Follow the group line

  • Sacredness Heuristic

“Do not question what is sacred.”


The power of descriptive aliefology

Each of these heuristics can be reversed to tell you where to go look about for wrong beliefs. As Haidt has said (in the case of the Sacredness heuristic) – ““The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance.”

Reversing this heuristic tells you where to look to build your map – as in this analysis. Reversing the other ones should lead to the same effect.


  • folk psycholgy, folk physics, experimental philosophy, human intuitive ontology (paper on evolutionary psychology on this)
  • how these heuristics are sound in a certain environment but have been abused and don’t work in our current environment (EEA and gigerenzer)
  • knowledge goes pop
  • “broscience”
  • social aliefology:
  • Coolized  “Prefer what is cool” ; crossfit
  • authority heuristics and
  • (Unclear if politicized heuristic fits into individual beliefology or aliefology.)
  • need better names

Societal Map Corruption

In this essay I criticize part of Pinker’s model of societal change. I leave my criticism implicit, since making it explicit – if it is correct – would be potentially (very) problematic.


We have spoken before about how definitions matter and that disputes about definitions are about power hungry strategic actors wanting to influence your map because their power depends on it.

We have also talked about Pinker’s model of societal change:

“Norm cascade” Argument of societal change

  1. The elites favor the position for which there are rational arguments.
  2. The position with rational arguments for it is position Y.
  3. Therefore, the elites favor position Y.
  4. If there are is an intense controversy between two opposed sides to a socially fractious issue (drug legalization, abortion, capital punishment, same-sex marriage), what the elite favors becomes legal norm.
  5. There are is an intense controversy between two opposed sides to a socially fractious issue  X
  6. Therefore, position Y will become legal norm [3,4,5]
  7. If nothing terrible happens, then, people and press get bored.
  8. Nothing terrible happens.
  9. Therefore, people and press get bored [7,8]
  10. If people and press get bored, then politicians realize issue is no longer a vote-getter
  11. Therefore, politicians realize issue is no longer a vote-getter. [9, 10]
  12. If politicians realize issue is no longer a vote-getter, then politicians will not reopen the issue.
  13. Therefore, politicians will not reopen the issue. [11, 12]
  14. If politicians don’t reopen the issue, no one will.
  15. Therefore, the issue is not reopened.  [13, 14]

Argument for “People accept the status quo as correct.”

  1. People accept the status quo as correct.
  2. Y is the status quo.
  3. Therefore, people accept Y as correct.

Argument for “Extremists cement the majority consensus.”

  1. “Norm cascade” Argument of societal political change
  2. Argument for “People accept the status quo as correct.”
  3. If a group goes against majority consensus and isn’t composed of elites, it will be seen as extremist/radical,
  4. Any group proclaiming ~Y, goes against the majority consensus
  5. Therefore, any group proclaiming ~Y will be seen as extremist/radical.
  6. The majority cements its consensus by opposition to extremist group positions.
  7. Therefore, the group proclaiming ~Y being seen as extremist/radical will further cement the majority consensus


I’m afraid of this model being mostly (instead of entirely) correct. It is not obvious to me that the elites favor positions for which there are rational arguments and cause it to become the legal norm.

I just think that that is what Pinker would rationalize himself into, being smart, and the status quo argument being correct. It is just too clean – if the argument obtains, we do, in some sense, live in the best of all possible worlds.

I fear it is much more complicated than that.

What I do see is pressure groups, societies for the advancement of, “rights” movements, pride days, manifestos, for freedom groups, lobbying, academic “fields”, and censorship. I don’t see any reason to believe that membership in this groups is explained by rational argument consideration and debate but rather it seems to be a contingent aspect of pre-existing membership.

I also find it a bit too convenient and unrealistic to suspect that all of these groups have had, in the past, their positions rationally assessed by a group of the elites which then enforce whatever is rational.

I do see some groups winning over others and see it reflected in the general populace pretty fast – things that were ok, normal, cool, not a “thing” become uncool and met with a learned moral disgust response.

And I see word wars to promote beliefs that matter to some actors. (This is not a syndrome of our time, though. In the Republic Plato proposed a Noble Lie that would keep the stratification of his idealized society: god had made the souls of rules with gold, those of helpers with silver, and farmers and craftsmen had iron and brass in their souls. This is why rulers were born to rule, helpers to help and craftsmen to craft; and a desire to change classes would not even be a possible idea.)

It seems to me that what is in fact happen is that some groups unite under the idea that “X is right/correct/moral” (or the converse) because they are part of X or benefit from that in some for. They then overpower groups that don’t and spread their belief through society. If it is the fact that these groups believe this due to membership and not rational argument, then you would expect your various society-given beliefs to be corrupted. (Descartes realized some form of this around 1650. One can only expect that the corruptors have gotten better since then. For a recent example – hopefully harmless to my audience – see the Different Media portrayals of the 2014 events in Ukraine and realize that, in the best case scenario, you got the right picture in one of three possible worlds.)




  1. astroturfing, crowd manipulation, disinformation, frame building and frame setting, infoganda, media bias, media manipulation, misinformation, perception management, political warfare, psychological manipulation, psychological warfare, mudsliding, sanctioned name-calling