Religious tendencies

I recently came across this post, an article criticising what the author calls “Pop-Bayesianism”, the first time I’ve really come across a critique of my one of my new interests, ideas around rationality derived mainly from the Less Wrong blog/London meetups of same.

I also saw a link to this video, a trailer for a film about certain kinds of electronic dance music. For me, the video bestrides the line between descriptions of a new version of an old thing that humans love to do relating to music and dance, which can produce ecstatic feeling and flaky claims of spiritual enlightenment.

In the first example above the Meaningness Metablog seems to be cautioning the groups who get excited about probability theory (and in particular Bayes’ theory) from teaching its message in such a simplistic fashion as to inspire religious-style adherence, rather than understanding. The Meaningness author describes it as a version of eternalism, albeit atheistic. 

In the second instance, the video about dance music, I find myself enjoying the concepts that I can explain — movement and dance as ecstatic experience = altered brain chemistry = a fun thing humans love to do — whilst cautioning myself that any reference to “oneness with nature” or improvement of the universe is an anthropocentric religious mistake.

The first/major author of the Less Wrong blog Eliezer Yudkowski also addresses the tendency for any group of people who are exploring an idea to end up acting irrationally/religiously/cultishly in numerous posts. In one post he talks of the need to intellectually resist the tendency towards cultishness:

Every group of people with an unusual goal—good, bad, or silly—will trend toward the cult attractor unless they make a constant effort to resist it. 

I take it therefore, that this milieu within which I exist seems to agree that avoiding religious adherence, or perhaps we should say dogmatic adherence, or resisting cultish adherence to a thing is self-evidently important. 

Since such an endeavour requires great intellectual vigilance and fortitude I suppose I want to question why it is so important. The LessWrong blog is excellent for answering this question, explaining that biases, fallacies and psychological shortcuts that exist in human minds go a very long way to obscuring understanding of how things actually are, causing confusion where there need be none and hindering human progress.

I think I accept the proposition that slavish adherence to dogma should be avoided, but that leaves us with the problem that to do so the entire human population needs to be both educated and vigilant.

It seems a shame that the understandable, enjoyable, pleasurable benefits of “religious experience” such as: ecstatic pleasure, belief in something larger than ourselves, communing/community and the psychological relief this all entails can only be acceptable when employing sufficient intellectual vigilance against having false beliefs about how the universe works.

Well, a shame or not I think my point is that most humans will not be capable of this at all because having these skills basically requires a certain level of education, and that is a greater level of education globally than we can currently provide.

Given this fact, I think I’d like to know exactly for whom it is important to have accurate beliefs about the world? Can we get away with having just a few humans who think this way? If, ideally, all humans are to strive somewhat against dogmatic belief then exactly which parts of religious experience should we strive to reject and which parts should we pursue? 

Dismissing spiritual experience entirely does not seem to be appropriate, or even useful, so drilling down into these questions, perhaps so that we can aquire some kind of “least harm” strategy for humans and their religious tendencies would be a very productive way for someone to spend their time.


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