Alief vs Belief: Get Up To Speed



Recently I read an article (forgot where) that stated that atheists don’t actually exist because they behave in certain ways that imply god-belief. I actually stopped reading at the point where the author subtly shifted goalposts by initially talking about god-belief to the sleight of hand of talking about belief in spirits (belief in god and belief in theory-of-mind like phenomena are different), but I’d like to make this point regardless of a crappy article.

There are many people who like to watch scary movies. A lot of scary movies in Western culture implicitly assume a worldview where demons are real, most of the time going so far as to have the demon or evil spirit as the main antagonist. I’m sure lots of non-believers who watch these movies don’t think that these spirits really exist, yet they probably get scared at all of the creaky floors and bestial growls just like believers. Does this mean that non-believers are hypocritical when they have the involuntary reaction of fear when the main demon jumps out of the shadows?

No. This is the same sort of fear that people have when they ride roller coasters, or the same sadness people have when watching Titanic or Avatar. A woman I was dating when that latter movie came out started crying during the movie. Does this mean that she really believes giant blue anthropomorphic aliens on a distant planet just had their sacred tree destroyed? Probably not. Another woman I dated started crying at the end of Looper. Does that mean that she literally believes that in the near future (which hasn’t happened yet) Joseph Gordon-Levitt shoots himself to make Bruce Willis disappear? Highly doubtful.

Psychologist call this phenomenon of seemingly contradictory beliefs and actions alief. Christians in the USA don’t have a belief that Japanese Jesus-less demonology is true when they get scared while watching The Ring, but they have the alief that it’s true and is the reason they get scared.

One also has to take into account our modular minds. There is no single “you” that holds all beliefs, there are a multitude of “yous” that have their own separate beliefs; and one way to inject a bit of alief into some of those modules is by telling stories. The process is automatic and unconscious.

So the moral of this story is, if atheist don’t exist due to the belief/alief dichotomy, then neither do Christians (or any believer, for that matter).

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 22, 2014 in apologetics, cognitive science


Grandmaster Meio (Strider)

I’ve been busy with work and grad school so I haven’t been reading much about religion. At least, not enough to blog about. However, I’ve still been playing guitar. I’ve covered another slice of the old school video game music catalog; this time from the 1989 arcade game Strider.

I’ve always loved the theme for the final boss, Grandmaster Meio. Its original instance is a bit like a slightly creepy/spacey Bach composition (listen here). I of course metalized it adding a bit of a doom-metal break in between. The title “deathless king” is an homage to a doom band called My Dying Bride (who also influenced my other song I posted).

The character Grandmaster Meio does consider himself a god, so I guess it is somewhat related to my blog!

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 24, 2014 in video games


Religions Promoted Welfare States


From PsyBlog:

“Particularly in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, in which the state and the churches as well as the denominations were competing against one another, religions became highly committed to the welfare sector”, according to the Protestant theologian and social ethicist Prof. Dr. Hans-Richard Reuter from the University of Münster’s Cluster of Excellence. “In countries like Spain or Poland, on the other hand, where Catholicism had the monopoly for a long time and was closely tied to the state, religions had hardly any influence on welfare statism, which is less well developed there to this day.”

I have to wonder why something similar hasn’t happened in the USA. There’s a ton of religious competition here due to there not being an official “state” religion. Though it could be due to how stratified the USA is; many states and even counties are very insular and thus might be seen as their own little “country” within the country. So while there are a lot of different religions in the USA, these religions don’t really come into contact or compete with each other.

That’s my guess anyway.

This is also sorta significant due to the role that welfare states have on religion. Is this some sort of teleological function that religions have — moving towards welfare states as an end game — or is it cyclical, going from religion to welfare state and back to religion like some sort of Ouroboros?

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in economics/sociology


Guardians Of The Truth


Reading about how and why religion comes about, you inevitably stumble onto the conclusion that religion isn’t just some aberration of humanity. The only thing that separates tried and true “religion” from other types of groups — or to put it in its real meaning, tribes — that people identify with is belief in the supernatural. Even if you take away belief in the supernatural, there’s nothing stopping a secular grouping (say, feminism or Objectivism) from tapping into the same family of negative behavior that religious people engage in.

The problem isn’t the supernatural. The problem is in-group vs. out-group. And this in-group/out-group animosity becomes more pronounced when you have a group that has an either implicit or explicit charge of guarding the truth:

“The Inquisition thought they had the truth! Clearly this ‘truth’ business is dangerous.” [...]

Questions like that don’t have neat single-factor answers. But I would argue that one of the factors has to do with assuming a defensive posture toward the truth, versus a productive posture toward the truth.

When you are the Guardian of the Truth, you’ve got nothing useful to contribute to the Truth but your guardianship of it. When you’re trying to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry by discovering the next benzene or buckyball, someone who challenges the atomic theory isn’t so much a threat to your worldview as a waste of your time.

When you are a Guardian of the Truth, all you can do is try to stave off the inevitable slide into entropy by zapping anything that departs from the Truth. If there’s some way to pump against entropy, generate new true beliefs along with a little waste heat, that same pump can keep the truth alive without secret police. In chemistry you can replicate experiments and see for yourself—and that keeps the precious truth alive without need of violence.

Remember my little maxim that I made up: The more a group promotes prosociality, the less it cares about accurately modeling reality (this is because truth and morality, in practice, occupy two different magisteria). A group that forms on the premise of some social or moral cause (like religion), and is also defending “the truth”, will inevitably lead to horrible behavior just like all of those horror stories that atheists like to blame on religion.

Yudkowsky’s use of “entropy” might muddle the concept a bit, so granting myself the liberty of rewording it, the gravity of the situation becomes clear. “When you are a Guardian of the Truth, all you can do is try to stave off the inevitable slide into [the immoral past] by zapping anything that departs from the Truth”

It also might be helpful to replace “truth” with information.

I am reminded of this very phenomenon of “guardians of the truth” pointed out by one of Jerry Coyne’s recent posts:

First Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s invitation to speak at the Brandeis commencement was withdrawn, and now there are more, for Political Correctness season is upon us. Certainly universities have the right to choose their speakers, but it’s bad form to choose someone and then rescind their invitation, or to cave in to student pressures that make speakers withdraw.


The WSJ is, of course, a conservative organ, and goes on to decry the “loopiness” of the left wing and the ostracism of conservative professors, as well the tendency of universities to allow “the nuttiest professors to dumb down courses and even whole disciplines into tendentious gibberish.” That’s an exaggeration, but still, it’s disturbing that we see the left attacking, in effect, freedom of speech. If you don’t like Condaleeza Rice (and I sure don’t), that doesn’t mean you should mount such a protest against her that she has to withdraw. Are all speakers to be vetted for signs of cryptic conservatism? Are students that loath to hear views that might disagree with them?

I’m no conservative, but these Commencement Police frighten me, and paint students as self-entitled, fragile beings who can’t countenance dissent—unless it’s their own. At my own commencement at William and Mary in 1971, we had an undistinguished state legislator as speaker—and this after many of us wanted a more leftist person. But we didn’t shout him down, or pressure the university to withdraw his invitation. Instead, we organized a “counter commencement,” held at a different time and place, and our class invited and paid for Charles Evers, the older brother of slain civil rights worker Medgar Evers.

People! Stop the tribal thinking! Argument gets counter-argument, not reputation assassination and/or banishment from the tribe.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in rationality, religiosity


Is Free Will An Illusion? What Can Cognitive Science Tell Us?

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 20, 2014 in cognitive science


Solomonoff Induction


Solomonoff Induction is the more accurate mathematical formulation of the epistemic heuristic Occam’s Razor. While my post on the subject is also mathematical, and is influenced by the conjunction fallacy, Occam’s Razor itself is just a vague rule of thumb. Solomonoff Induction is an attempt to make Occam’s Razor more rigorous.

The way I understand it, imagine writing a computer program that knew every single hypothesis imaginable that can be used to explain some data. The computer would select the hypothesis with the least amount of code — represented as a binary string — as its main prior. Or at least, as the prior with the highest probability.

The problem would be actually having a computer that had every hypothesis imaginable and one that compared each one via complexity of code (complexity of code = more bits used to represent it).

As an example, let’s say we have two pieces of code: One that represents Newton’s laws of motion and another that represents Einstein’s theory of relativity. At first glance, the program that computes Newton’s laws might seem simpler than Einstein’s (more people know Newton’s formulas than know Einstein’s formulas), but Newton’s code doesn’t account for weird things like Mercury’s orbit. So in actuality, Newton’s code would get bloated from all of the ad hoc code meant to account for things like Mercury’s orbit that can’t be computed using the baseline Newtownian formulas. And in the end, Newton’s program would be larger than Einstein’s due to that extra code; maybe Newton.dll would be 100 MB and Einstein.dll would be 80 MB.

Thus, by my understanding of Solomonoff Induction, a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence would use Einstein.dll as its main prior when attempting to explain some gravitational phenomenon. At least until a smaller program is written that accounts for all of the things Einstein.dll accounts for plus things that it doesn’t (e.g., quantum gravity).

Now imagine comparing disparate hypotheses, like a computer that could model the atmosphere to predict when and where hurricanes will strike, and a computer program that attempted to model an angry god to predict where and when hurricanes strike. I’m willing to bet that the code used to model non-supernatural weather would be smaller than the one used to model a supernatural being’s motivations (I’m relatively certain that hurricanes forming isn’t more complex than the bio-chemical and social processes that produce anger in living beings, not to mention angry beings that have no physical body… though this is intuitively backwards; and it is backwards precisely because we think primarily in social ways). Or more pointedly, comparing the code used to model a supernatural Jesus coming back from the dead and the code used to model the story being invented by people who are the modern equivalent of people from a small, backwards village in Africa colonized by the British.

Well… this is all fine and dandy, but most people aren’t going to comprehend this intuitively, since there isn’t a reference to things that they already know about. But Solomonoff Induction makes sense to me (well, at least how I’ve laid it out above), because I’ve actually written code that uses the math behind special/general relativity and I can see how at first glance it would look more complicated than Newton’s laws of motion. But adding that extra code to account for things that can’t be explained via Newton’s laws would be bad programming practice. I would certainly prefer code that had a one-stop algorithm that computed things instead of an algorithm plus some hand-jammed code added to it because the original algorithm wasn’t robust enough.

So back to Occam’s Razor, except a more intuitive explanation of it. I think Occam’s Razor can be summed up using the English metaphor “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Imagine choosing from a variety of chains to hook up a disabled car to the back of a pickup truck. Given that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, you would want to pick the chain that has the lowest chance for having a weak link, thus a lower chance for the chain to break and the car goes careening off somewhere on the highway.

A short chain might have an extremely weak link in it, yet a longer chain might have a bunch of slightly weak links in it. Which chain do you use then? Whatever methodology you use to ensure that you pick the right chain would be Occam’s Razor; you could even go about removing the weak link altogether and go with the strongest part of the chain.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 15, 2014 in rationality


“The Opposite of What America Does”


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Funny

Slate Star Codex

Not a social justice blog! Stop only reading my posts about social justice!


Matthew Ferguson Blogs

The Wandering Scientist

Just another site

NT Blog

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Euangelion Kata Markon

A blog dedicated to the academic study of the "Gospel According to Mark"


My ὑπομνήματα about religion


Understand your mind with the science of psychology -


Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

atheist, polyamorous skeptics

Criticism is not uncivil


My ὑπομνήματα about religion

BPS Research Digest

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Disrupting Dinner Parties

Feminism is for everyone!


My ὑπομνήματα about religion

The New Oxonian

Religion and Culture for the Intellectually Impatient

The Musings of Thomas Verenna

A Biblioblog about imitation, the Biblical Narratives, and the figure of Jesus

The Floating Lantern

Discussing science, religion, dance, and anything else I come up with


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.