The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives

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Posted by on November 10, 2018 in cognitive science, morality


Considering the fact that Jesus was a benevolent man, why did he caste the demons into the pigs rather than sending them back to hell?

Mark, the writer who came up with this story, wasn’t writing history. He was writing something more like Shakespeare, and this passage is an allegory.

Mark’s first language was not Greek. Scholars can tell this because the Greek he uses is “difficult”. If you read Mark in Greek, almost every sentence literally starts with “Immediately” or “And”. Imagine reading a story that’s written like this:

And then I went to the store and bought some eggs, bacon, milk, salt, pepper, and potatoes for breakfast.

Immediately, I went to the counter to pay for my breakfast.

And the store clerk asks me if I have bills less than 20s since he’s running out of smaller bills

And I pull out two 5s from my wallet so that I can help the store clerk out

And I paid for my breakfast and headed towards the exist

And I ran into an old buddy of mine while at the door

And he said ‘hi’ to me and asked me what I was doing up so early on a Saturday

And I told him that I had a long day of studying ahead of me so I wanted to get a head start

And he said that this was uncharacteristic of me since I was known for partying and staying up late

And I told him that I wanted to try being more responsible since I’m currently on academic probation

This is what it’s like reading Mark in Greek. So tedious.

Anyway, Mark might have a Roman background of some sorts, since he uses a lot of Latinized Greek words. Like “centurion”: It literally means “leader of 100” in Latin (think of the word “century”). Matthew and Luke use hekatontarchos, which is the Greek word for “leader of 100” (e.g., a hecaton, a 100 sided shape).

Mark also provides Latin translations for some reason:

Mark 12:42: λεπτὰ δύο, ὅ ἐστιν κοδράντης — lepta duo, [which] is a kordrantes (Latin “quadrans” the smallest Roman coin)

Mark 15:16: τῆς αὐλῆς, ὅ ἐστιν πραιτώριον — the aules, [which] is the praitorion (Latin “praetorium”)

With that said, there’s a reason Mark chose “legion”, which is also a purely Latin word. Moreover, there’s a reason that Mark chose to associate pigs with this “legion”.

Legio X Fretensis – Wikipedia

X Fretensis symbols were the bull — the holy animal of the goddess Venus (mythical ancestor of the gens Julia) — a ship (probably a reference to the Battles of Naulochus and/or Actium), the god Neptune, and a boar.

Legio X Fretensis was responsible for occupying Jerusalem after the Jewish War (ended 70 CE), staying into the fourth century. After 70 it was stationed in Gerasa for a while (Winter 1974, p180-181). Allusions to the Jewish War with Rome in Mark are the reasons why many scholars date the composition of this gospel to around or after the Jewish War, which, again, ended in 70 CE.

Geographically, having the pigs run from Gerasa into “the sea” makes no sense. Gerasa is about 30 miles from any large bodies of water. How long do you think it would take you to run 30 miles? Were Jesus and the poor recently possessed man standing there for a few hours waiting for the pigs to get to the sea? Matthew recognized this mistake and changed the location from Gerasa to Gadara but Gadara was still six miles from the lake.

So to recap, we have the 10th Legion Fretensis who were stationed in Gerasa after 70 CE and one of their standards was a boar. We have this story, written sometime around or after 70 CE where a guy goes to Gerasa and encounters a demon called “Legion”. He casts the demon into a herd of pigs and the pigs leave the region.

This is an allegory about kicking the 10th Legion out of Gerasa if I had to put betting money on it.


Why Sexism and Racism Never Diminish–Even When Everyone Becomes Less Sexist and Racist

Are people susceptible to prevalence-induced concept change? To answer this question, we showed participants in seven studies a series of stimuli and asked them to determine whether each stimulus was or was not an instance of a concept. The concepts ranged from simple (“Is this dot blue?”) to complex (“Is this research proposal ethical?”). After participants did this for a while, we changed the prevalence of the concept’s instances and then measured whether the concept had expanded—that is, whether it had come to include instances that it had previously excluded.

…When blue dots became rare, purple dots began to look blue; when threatening faces became rare, neutral faces began to appear threatening; and when unethical research proposals became rare, ambiguous research proposals began to seem unethical. This happened even when the change in the prevalence of instances was abrupt, even when participants were explicitly told that the prevalence of instances would change, and even when participants were instructed and paid to ignore these changes.

Read more at Marginal Revolution

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Posted by on July 5, 2018 in religion


Age differences in moral judgment: Older adults are more deontological than younger adults


In 2 studies, an older and a younger age group morally evaluated dilemmas contrasting a deontological judgment (do not harm others) against a utilitarian judgment (do what is best for the majority). Previous research suggests that deontological moral judgments are often underpinned by affective reactions and utilitarian moral judgments by deliberative thinking. Separately, research on the psychology of aging has shown that affect plays a more prominent role in the judgments and decision making of older (vs. younger) adults. Yet age remains a largely overlooked factor in moral judgment research. Here, we therefore investigated whether older adults would make more deontological judgments on the basis of experiencing different affective reactions to moral dilemmas as compared with younger adults. Results from 2 experiments indicated that older adults made significantly more deontological moral judgments. Mediation analyses revealed that the relationship between age and making more deontological moral judgments is partly explained by older adults exhibiting significantly more negative affective reactions and having more morally idealistic beliefs as compared with younger adults.

First published: 19 June 2018

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Posted by on June 20, 2018 in religion


The New Fundamentalism

Secularism is increasing in the West. The Millennial generation, even in the USA (which is the most religious Western country), is disproportionately the least religious generation.

I was never a big fan of religion. It’s why I started this blog, to archive my notes (literally ὑπομνήματα or “hypomnemata”; “notes”, the underscore of this blog)

and thoughts on the academic scholarship of why religion exists and persists. Indeed, to go beyond just religion, and find out why people believe what they do, in spite of all of the evidence that might refute or contradict their beliefs. So this wave of secularism and its trend towards universal prominence should be a good thing to me right?


Religion isn’t some aberration. The seeds and ingredients that make us believe are baked into our cognition. This goes for the stellar community generating aspects as well as the insidious divisive parts. And it follows that, even though people are becoming less religious in the West, the constituent parts of religiosity, the things that made us religious in the first place, will persist. It’s these parts — completely and utterly inherent to our cognition — that makes religion terrible. Yet religion isn’t unique in its terribleness.

The vast majority of people neither convert nor deconvert from religion due to pure intellectual reasons. Most deconvert due to moral failings they see in their religion or their religious leaders. And this is a problem. Matthew said it best:

Matthew 12

43 When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.
44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.
45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

The short of it is this: Who cares if we’re becoming less religious when the irrationality that made us believe in the first place is still there? That same irrationality will lead us to replace the old fundamentalism with a new one.

I’ve written a few posts, not just explaining why people believe what they do, but what people might believe in the future; a future where Christianity (in the West) is a minority belief.

Removing The Unclean Spirit of Religion: Communities built around pseudoscience and woo will probably fill the void left by religion

Nature or Nature’s God: Any new “religion” will have both its nuanced version and its lowest common denominator version floating concurrently in the wider memespace; in the battle of ideas, the most popular ideas are optimized for virulence… not for truth

“If I Think Really, Really Hard, I Can Get The Right Answer”: The average person’s brain is optimized for making friends and influencing people. Not figuring out what’s true. Thinking you can figure out what’s true without first getting the proper tools for figuring out what’s true is folly; thinking that you already have those tools is worse. You have to not only constantly use the tools, but be wary of using the tools improperly.

Truth vs. Morality; Rationality vs. Intuition: There will always be scientific truths that are made as a burnt offering on the altar of an ethical theory. Most moral or ethical theories have some facet of anti-epistemology by dint of tribalistic human nature. This tribalism usually manifests and calls their anti-epistemology Other Ways Of KnowingTM

Take all of these together, and what will most likely fill the void left by organized religion in the minds of Millennials and beyond will be something that is primarily an ethical theory. It will be good at building communities around itself and will be optimized for spreading, not optimized for truth.

The thing that will make it the new fundamentalism, just like the old fundamentalism, will be the tendency to demonize any scientific findings that might be weaponizable and used against the primary aims of the ethical theory. This will be especially true for any science that makes humanity seem no better or worse than other animals; these ethical theories that assume that we are outside of and beyond our animal cousins are always threatened by this science. If you can predict someone’s response to a scientific question using their ethics, then you are probably dealing with a nascent fundamentalist.

As I wrote before, a group that organizes on the premise of some social or moral cause (like religion), and is also defending “the truth”, will inevitably lead to terrible behavior akin to those horror stories that atheists like to blame on religion.

I have a feeling that this sort of thing will continue indefinitely: Old fundamentalisms replaced with their newer incarnations. And it will continue to happen. The best we can do, as I wrote in Nature or Nature’s God, is to try to take advantage of our overwhelming need for tribalism and redirect it towards goals that both benefit humanity and don’t shy away from uncomfortable truths.

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Posted by on June 12, 2018 in cognitive science, religion


When Science And Politics Disagree, People View Scientists Unfavorably


Messages emphasizing scientific agreement are increasingly used to communicate politically polarizing issues. Proponents argue that these messages neutralize the effect of people’s political worldviews due to the neutral scientific character of the message. Yet this argument has not undergone extensive testing. Addressing this, we measured participants’ thoughts on scientists featured in messages emphasizing scientific agreement on politically dissonant issues. Our results show that readers often produce less favorable thoughts and moral judgments when scientists agree on a politically dissonant issue. As a result, messages emphasizing scientific agreement on politicized issues might not always neutralize the effect of people’s political worldviews.

Neutralizing the Effect of Political Worldviews by Communicating Scientific Agreement: A Thought-Listing Study

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Posted by on May 21, 2018 in cognitive science


How do you explain the mysterious beauty of this planet without referring to a supreme being?

I’m from NYC. This question would be the equivalent of me saying “how do you explain that I was born in the most awesome city on the planet without a supreme being?”

Of course, almost everyone says their home town is the best ever. Why do you think that is? I think the answer to that is the same as the answer to your question.

But let’s get a bit deeper into the assumptions behind your question. What’s your logical link from “Earth is beautiful” to “therefore a supreme being”? In other words, what makes something a good explanation?

If I were to say that something is a chair, there are qualities that chairs have in common that define them as chairs instead of beanbags: Chairs have four legs, a back support part, a part to sit on, etc. There should be some similar consistent criteria for what constitutes a good explanation, and why you think this creates the necessary link between “Beautiful Earth” and “Supreme Creator”.

If you get home late and your boyfriend/girlfriend asks why you’re late, what would be a good explanation? Why is “I got stuck in traffic” better than “I was kidnapped by aliens”? We know the former is more believable, but why?

Well, you might say something like “traffic causes people to be late more than getting kidnapped by aliens does”. And that would be correct. But I argue that this isn’t enough to separate good explanations from bad explanations, and it isn’t enough to explain why your link from “Beautiful Earth” to “Supreme Being” is a strong or weak link.

Since this isn’t a dialog, I’ll have to just explain another quality of a good explanation: Good explanations are specialized. Meaning, they explain what they intend to explain and that’s it. An explanation that can be used to explain some situation, but then can also be used to explain its polar opposite, isn’t a good explanation.

So, if instead of getting home late, you got home early, and your boyfriend/girlfriend asks why you’re early, then saying “because I got stuck in traffic” doesn’t make sense. The stuck-in-traffic explanation is specialized for only making people late. But “I got kidnapped by aliens” works just as well for making someone late as it does for making someone early. Once you invoke aliens, then anything is possible.


Let me repeat that last sentence more generally: Once you invoke [bad explanation], anything is possible.

This is a real important concept to grasp. Bad explanations, because they’re not specialized, allow for any possible outcome. And the more possibilities your explanation allows, the less likely it is that your explanation is responsible for a specific problem. There’s only one explanation that can allow for any possible outcome: Pure randomness.

Both qualities of good explanations I’ve enumerated here — a good explanation is more commonplace (e.g., “traffic causes people to be late more than getting kidnapped by aliens does”) and more specialized — follow directly from probability theory. So they’re not things I’ve just made up.

So back to the question at hand: How do you explain the mysterious beauty of this planet without referring to a supreme being? Why do you think a supreme being is a good explanation? Are supreme beings commonplace? Are supreme beings only responsible for beauty, or is anything possible for a supreme being?

I think we know the answers to those questions.

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Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Bayes, Quora answers, religion

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