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Firefly, Serenity

Within Reason

Posted on 2012.01.09 at 09:20
Current Location: 67114
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Reasonable expectations. Everyone has them. Some are aware that their own expectations may differ from the expectations of someone else. Some are further aware that how they define "reasonable" may not be how someone else defines it. Those who acknowledge that these differences exist can more easily themselves coexist. Who are these people? They are the politically/sexually/religiously agnostic - people who do not ascribe to any particular political party, sexual morality, or path to enlightenment/salvation. While many may fall under one or two of those, there are very few people in the world who have shed themselves of all three. Very few because almost everyone at some point has something that they believe in. Even self-proclaimed `agents of chaos` are more or less aligned with certain political ideologies, much as politically-void sexual deviants may ascribe to a belief in their god. Everyone has something in which they believe, that being the thing on which they will not waver. Their principles.

Religious denominations fragment and form because they believe their interpretation is more accurate than any other denomination in the entire world. Adopted sexual behavior from worldwide sacred texts is often followed strictly by even the most close-minded atheists. Political parties thrive upon the idea that theirs are more reasonable than the other guy's. Each and every one vying for membership into exclusivity whose goal is to separate and divide. Collective individualism should be based upon unique personalities within an inclusion of diverse ideologies - not segregation.

Reasonable expectations. Everyone has them. Some judge others because those expectations may differ from their own. It never even registers that someone else may have different expectations. They are very confused when someone acts contrary to those expectations with no thought they might be acting exactly in accordance to their own. Or perhaps they may define "reasonable" differently even if the expectations were to line up perfectly otherwise. Those who never consider that other people may act according to opposing motivations are far more likely to assume others are behaving irrationally.

Society is built upon immediate and simultaneous series of assumptions - it has to be in order to operate. Its what creates efficiency and maintains momentum. Every person who is a part of society successfully fulfills their daily role though a majority of assumptions. They assume by getting dressed that culture hadn't decided overnight to forgo clothing, and they assume by getting in their car that roads still exist. Routine is entirely constructed from assumptions. It would be absurd to suggest that we need evidence for everything we are told or to not assume everything we've learned to be true has changed each time it is experienced.

Assuming someone is behaving irrationally however, just because they're operating under a different set of motivations is the very strike of the match which lights the fuse of intolerance. Those who are wholly agnostic rarely proclaim their tolerance by shouting it out in the streets as the Pharisees did, for all to see - they don't have to - they're not at odds with a rival alignment in fear of being judged. Yet in a wonderfully orchestrated life-choice of fail, many others do attempt to illustrate how exceptionally close-minded they are by doing just that. Its not okay to pay lip service to it while believing otherwise - that's veiled bigotry - deceit. It is, however entirely acceptable to not agree with those who's opinions differ. Disagreeing is healthy. When done properly, it can reinforce one's own belief, opens the mind to new possibilities, and strengthens humanity through dialog. Pretending to be something by the light of day which manifests itself otherwise behind closed doors is, depending upon the motivation behind it, reprehensible. And they are suddenly transformed into the very thing they despise were someone else to judge them with the same aplomb.

Choose instead to voice your disagreement. Those who do will slowly become better people, and a population of better people will make the world a better place.


michelle1963 at 2012-01-09 18:21 (UTC) (Link)
A big factor is respect, specifically self-respect. In order to respect others, one must respect himself. In order to acknowledge that others' expectations and definitions of "reasonable" may differ from one's own, a person must have a certain degree of confidence in their own beliefs, opinions, and motivations. It is this confidence that one's own beliefs, opinions, and motivations will stand up to scrutiny, that enables a person to look at the beliefs, opinions, and motivations of others objectively, without feeling threatened.

Those who can tolerate no differences exhibit fear when faced with differing ideas. They behave as if even entertaining a new idea, and/or making the attempt to understand something different will have grave consequences for their own dearly held beliefs. As if the things they think will collapse into dust once exposed to differing opinions.

So sad, and such a waste.

ehowton at 2012-01-09 23:50 (UTC) (Link)
Interesting concept behind self-respect. I like how much sense that makes. Another thing I've never considered. Thanks!
dentin at 2012-01-10 17:48 (UTC) (Link)
I disagree with this, in that I see no relationship between confidence level of belief and ability to look at other beliefs objectively. There are many things I am uncertain about which threaten me not one iota. There are countless people in the world threatened to the core by anyone who contradicts their absolute belief.

I think what you're trying to say requires another level of meta to express properly: one must know what the confidence level of your belief is, not have confidence in your belief.

This explains things better, in my mind. I am comfortable with my beliefs being challenged, because I know they are uncertain; all it takes me to change my belief system is to give me convincing evidence. Fanatics are uncomfortable with beliefs being challenged because they've set the knobs to either 0% or 100%, and any evidence which might change those settings must be rejected, ignored or destroyed. Often they pick destroy.
ehowton at 2012-01-10 23:58 (UTC) (Link)
I see no relationship between confidence level of belief and ability to look at other beliefs objectively.

On the contrary, you seem to back up that supposition with your percentage example. When someone sets their knob to either extreme, that polarity seemingly infers a knowledge deficit. And while its tricky traversing the chasm between knowledge and beliefs, it seemed to me michelle1963 wasn't suggesting a confidence in belief, but in themselves.

Even if the example of you personally at no point did you lack confidence in you, only "things." If we doubt ourselves, surely we would also doubt the convictions of our beliefs?

Sorry - its not easy for me to think unlike me :/
dentin at 2012-01-11 19:46 (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I lack confidence in many things about myself. I am not confident in my ability to sing, or my ability to play bass, or my ability to write C++ code. On the other hand, I'm very confident that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that general relativity and QM are extremely accurate. I have a lot more confidence in things that are well tested and understood than I do in my own chaotic internal behavior.

At a core level, my entire belief system is built on two fundamental axioms:

1) I believe that the universe contains identifiable patterns; and

2) I believe that my brain/mind is capable of identifying some of the patterns present in the universe.

That's it. Everything else is built on that layer, and no part of the stack is sacrosanct. Even those two beliefs have an uncertainty value associated with them; but it would take a LOT of evidence for me to discard either one.

Everything about me, including my (rather small set of) core axioms, is uncertain and subject to change. Because everything about me is subject to doubt, adding doubt to any particular belief isn't really much cause for concern.

But for someone built on a large number of binary axioms which can only be 'right' or 'wrong'...
ehowton at 2012-01-11 21:05 (UTC) (Link)
I think we're using the word confident differently - for are you not confident in your uncertainty in your ability to sing, because it certainly sounds like it.

I agree whole-heartedly in #1 and #2. Its that which I am confident in - my ability to ascertain and assimilate new data. Not whether or not I could effectively play the oboe.
dentin at 2012-01-11 19:29 (UTC) (Link)
I've had some time to think about this, and I realize that I'm not being clear; partially because this concept set is still pretty new for me, and because it's pretty abstract.

Please answer the following two questions as an example:

1) Estimate, from memory using only the information in your head at this moment, the birth year of Leibnitz (the guy who co-invented calculus with Newton.)

2) Give a confidence range around your estimate in years, such that you think there's a 50/50 shot of your estimate being in that range. For example, "[my estimate +-20] years has a 50% chance of being right".

My point is that #1, what you believe, isn't the important part. What's important is #2 - how likely it is that you're wrong.

The reason I don't get upset when my beliefs are challenged is because I consciously know and keep track of #2: I try to always know how likely I am to be wrong (or right.) This holds for things I am nearly certain about (gravity, QM, the sun rising every morning) as well as for things I am far less certain about (will the milk go bad early this time?)

When I am confronted with conflicting evidence, I can simply update my #2 reliability estimate, without necessarily changing #1. A strange experimental result doesn't cause me to disbelieve in general relativity or cause me to disbelieve the result. What it does do is cause me to lower my #2 estimate for general relativity a small amount, and lower my #2 estimate for the experimental result by a large amount.

My suggestion is that fanatics and nutjobs get upset in part because they do not keep track of #2. They have no 'chance I am wrong' bucket, so for all intents and purposes their beliefs are "certain". In this case, when confronted with conflicting evidence, the only available options are either to modify the belief outright, or to invalidate/discard/ignore the evidence.

This also explains why fanatics cannot change their belief systems. I will change a belief when enough evidence has accumulated in #2 to justify the change. But a fanatic cannot 'accumulate' evidence. Each piece, when encountered, can only change the belief or be discarded. Evidence cannot add uncertainty, because there is no #2 value to adjust. If no single piece of evidence is large enough to change the belief, the belief will hold and the evidence will be discarded.

I hope that clears things up. It was certainly helpful for me.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-11 20:19 (UTC) (Link)
You have a gift for pointing out the vulnerabilities in the way human thinking works (or does not work). It's a thing of beauty, dentin.

However, I was addressing a nuanced difference ~ the quality of the underlying self-confidence an individual has in himself. Neither you, ehowton, nor myself suffer from a lack of self-confidence. Why? Is it because none of us believe in much except the basics of the logic (which you have so well explained in the above post)? Does this give us the confidence in ourselves that some seem to lack? Or is it our self-confidence that allows us to shed ourselves of beliefs in deities, and the associated context?

In any case, those who have little self-confidence often readily tie their self-identities to an idea ~ religious, political party, etc. They hold these ideas sacrosanct in lieu of self-discovery (which might lead to self-confidence). They vicariously gain self-confidence when greater numbers of people adhere to the same concept. And since their self-identity is tied to a concept, they can tolerate no alternative concept, because to do so becomes an assault on who they are.
pcofwildthings at 2012-01-09 22:32 (UTC) (Link)
Something about the second sentence in the second to last paragraph makes me prickle. I think it's the introductory phrase followed by the term "wholly agnostic." I feel like a pretty tolerant person but I wouldn't consider myself wholly agnostic. An agnostic theist might be a better fit at this moment in time. I still think "live and let live" is, by and large, a good thing. Am I deluded then? (rhetorical question). Aren't we all? If you want to have a drum circle three nights a week on my street and play into the wee hours, my tolerance would quickly evaporate. Apparently, the answer to the question, "Can't we just all get along?" is a big no.

Sometimes voicing disagreements doesn't work. People become more entrenched in their own philosophy. In extreme cases, war results. I have friends with whom we agree to disagree. If they ask me to pray for them, I absolutely will...but I won't vote Republican. I still love 'em, though.
ehowton at 2012-01-09 23:48 (UTC) (Link)
They way you mention it? Absolutely. I've found that writing third-person ain't easy. Hopefully I corrected it. I do so try to keep fairly terse, which oftentimes results in what we have here.


And thanks for pointing that out - I'd be embarrassed for everyone to think I was being so closed-minded about the close-minded :P
pcofwildthings at 2012-01-10 00:24 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, it does! I get what you meant now.
ehowton at 2012-01-10 00:33 (UTC) (Link)
People become more entrenched in their own philosophy.

Coincidentally, the first sentence of my next post in this series, so to speak begins: "Presupposing for just a moment that everyone in the world I may ever interact with breathes air, is beholden to the laws of physics, and can articulate why they hold a belief..."

Logically I *know* voicing disagreements don't always work, but I find the psychosis psychology behind it fascinating. Perhaps I'm just lucky that my folks were always willing to discuss what they were thinking and the motivations behind their actions? At least when I asked them. And I've always been somewhat inquisitive.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-10 01:11 (UTC) (Link)
I was very fortunate in being able to discuss anything with my parents too. It was only later that I realized how unusual and what a valuable lesson I'd learned.
ehowton at 2012-01-10 01:27 (UTC) (Link)
I guess I'm still figuring that part out.
dentin at 2012-01-10 17:53 (UTC) (Link)
There's a lot of TED (www.ted.com) talks on decision making and social behavior related to this topic. If you're looking for quick overviews on various psychological bugs/features of people, those may be a fun way to accumulate info.

I often watch them with Fionna so we can talk about them during/after. There are a lot of psychological problems in her workplace.
ehowton at 2012-01-10 20:28 (UTC) (Link)
I used to watch Penn & Teller's Bullshit for the same reason. Fun!
CeltManX, Devlin O' Coileáin
celtmanx at 2012-01-10 06:01 (UTC) (Link)
I'm afraid I must disagree!!!
ehowton at 2012-01-10 06:04 (UTC) (Link)
Do you have any idea why?
dentin at 2012-01-10 17:36 (UTC) (Link)
Since you brought up rationality (www.lesswrong.com), I'm going to soapbox for a while. Yay soapboxes!

The whole point of rationality and rational decision making is that yes, we should in fact require evidence for everything we learn. Being told something is evidence. Reading things in books is evidence. However, each of the bits of evidence has reliability and probability statistics associated with it, and people are stunningly bad at managing statistics.

The only reason it's absurd to assume that everything we have learned has changed each time it is experienced is because we have evidence, from past observations, that things don't change.

Lastly, as you mentioned, it is wrong to assume that someone operating with different assumptions is behaving irrationally; however, people truly -are- irrational, at a core level. Two ideal rational entities with the same assumptions will always select the same outcome, as a consequence of Bayesian statistics, which define rational decision making. With that in mind, I can comfortably say that people are irrational without qualification.
ehowton at 2012-01-10 20:25 (UTC) (Link)
However, each of the bits of evidence has reliability and probability statistics associated with it...

In my previous career, we applied the following criteria to each piece of information: possible, probable or confirmed. There was also a category for of possible value which required an ability to piece together numerous, seemingly innocuous items for a broader collective perspective.

People truly -are- irrational, at a core level.

I believe that, yes. My intent is to try and flatten the playing field just a bit by proving it first, rather than assuming it. And in that way, it will hopefully also be applied to me :)

That being said the Bayesian probability is fascinating! I haven't run across that before. I will want to study it further. See if I'm making statistical errors myself in order to correct them, and then see where else they can be applied - thanks!

Edited at 2012-01-10 08:26 pm (UTC)
michelle1963 at 2012-01-11 19:54 (UTC) (Link)
people truly -are- irrational, at a core level.

In our alligator brains, no doubt. However some of us have advanced beyond that somewhat about some things. Some of us work harder at it than others.

When interacting with someone I do not know well, I give the benefit of the doubt that s/he is responding rationally, but may not be working with the same set of data that I am, or that the due to our different experiences in life, may interpret that data differently.

This gives a starting point for communication, correcting data (either the other person's or my own) and resolution.

If I assumed from the out-set that the person in question was irrational, I would probably not waste the time and energy trying to communicate unless I had no choice in the matter.
suzanne1945 at 2012-01-10 23:08 (UTC) (Link)
Reasonable expectations. Everyone has them. Some judge others because those expectations may differ from their own. It never even registers that someone else may have different expectations. They are very confused when someone acts contrary to those expectations with no thought they might be acting exactly in accordance to their own. Or perhaps they may define "reasonable" differently even if the expectations were to line up perfectly otherwise. Those who never consider that other people may act according to opposing motivations are far more likely to assume others are behaving irrationally.

This reminds me of how amazed I always was in working with children and their great logic, but having less experience. The answers that the little ones gave had perfect logic, but came up with less than what was expected answers. Here are some examples taken from 1st graders. They were given the beginning of a proverb and came up with endings that did not follow the expected norm, but oh, so logical from their viewpoint.

If you lie down with dogs,...you'll stink in the morning.
A penny saved is...not much.
A bird in the hand...is going to poop on you.

This just shows how important knowing the starting point for one's expectations is to the process of logic and motivation.

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