Thursday, December 20, 2012

Relationship between psychopathy and Autism/Aspergers

Somebody said: "Not everyone has empathy. Psychopaths don't have it. Autism/Asperger's have less empathy which may be part of the reason for the tendency to be socially isolated, unable to grasp social cues and so on. What is the difference and similarity between psychopathy and autism spectrum disorders."

Those concepts are no good -- the assumption is that genes have a causal role, which is false.

When psychologists refer to someone as having a "psychopathy", what's really going on is that that person has evil ideas, ideas that he uses to kill and hurt innocent people. And I guess the psychologists assume that having those evil ideas *must* be due to a physical illness, but that's false. Horrible experiences during childhood (plus his understanding about them, i.e. his choices) is sufficient to causing one to have evil ideas.

When psychologists refer to someone as having "Autism/Asperger's", what's really going on is that that person has ideas that are not socially accepted, ideas that he uses while playing and talking to people and whatever else. And the psychologist is assuming that having these socially unaccepted ideas *must* be due to a physical illness, but that's false.

Regarding similarities, having evil ideas about killing and hurting innocent people (aka "psychopathy") is a special case of having ideas that are socially unacceptable (aka "Autism/Asperger's"). But, a few hundred years ago, it was socially accepted to kill people who had socially unacceptable ideas (referring to the killing of "witches"). Would you call those witch-killers psychopaths? If so, how do you explain why there were so many more psychopaths per capita back then than compared to today?

On a side note: You're wrong that people labeled with "Autism/Aspergers" are *unable* to grasp social cues. They can learn it if they want to, i.e. if they consider that important. And, if they start to learn these social cues long after most everyone else does, then those other people shun them (analogous to witch-killers killing "witches"), thereby making it harder for them to learn social cues. Its a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But before we condemn people for not knowing social cues, lets question whether or not its good to seek social acceptance in the first place?

Also, what if the asocial way is better? Consider this guy who was diagnosed Aspergers when he was young.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Nature of Man

All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge. So all good is due to sufficient knowledge. This is the principle of optimism. This means that for every evil act, had the evildoer known that his act was evil, and that there was a good option available to him, he would have done good instead of evil. To explain this principle, I'll consider a few hypothetical situations.

The first situation involves a parent giving her baby a bottle of formula. The baby takes a sip and puts the bottle down on his tray. Then the parent tried to coax the baby with cute feeding methods involving airplane sounds. The baby kept turning his head. Then the parent got anxious and tried to force it in his mouth thinking that she's doing it in the best interest of her baby. The baby hit the bottle, knocking it to the floor. Then the parent used more force and succeeded in getting her baby to drink the formula. Hours later, the baby died. The autopsy showed that the baby was poisoned. The police learned that the formula was tainted -- not just the formula in the baby's bottle, but also the whole batch of formula shipped by the manufacturer.

It’s important to consider who committed evil; the parent, the baby, or both. The baby knew that the formula tasted really bad, so each time that he rejected it, he was doing good. The parent knew that her baby rejected the formula, so each time that she tried to coerce her baby to drink it, she was committing evil.

Now consider a situation identical in all respects but one -- the formula wasn't tainted, so the baby didn't die. Who acted immorally? Can the answer be different? Logically, the answer cannot be different. Morality does not depend on the actual results, but rather only the expected results. To illustrate this point, consider whether or not it is moral for a father of five young children to choose to spend all his wealth on lottery tickets. Does the moral choice depend on whether or not he wins? No, the moral choice depends on whether or not he’s expected to win.

As I’ve illustrated, every evil act is caused by insufficient knowledge. In the case of the parent who forced her baby to drink the bottle, had she known that coercing people is expected to lead to bad results, and that persuasion doesn't have that fault, she would not have resorted to coercion. In the case of the father who spent his entire life savings on lottery tickets, had he known that his choice is expected to lead to bad results, and that he had a better way to spend the wealth, he would not have committed evil.

At some point in the future, when every human being understands this principle of optimism well, and has sufficient knowledge, all evils will be eradicated.

- If you read this far, then you'd enjoy this.


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Monday, November 12, 2012

How to deal with peer pressure

To understand how to deal with peer pressure, one must first understand what peer pressure is. A dictionary definition for peer pressure is : social pressure by members of one's peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted. Note the "to be accepted" part of the definition. It means that the reason that one would "feel pressure" is if and only if he *wanted* to be accepted by his peers. So, what if he didn't want that? Then he wouldn't "feel pressured". Interestingly, the conventional understanding is that people, by nature, want to be socially accepted, and that people that don't want that, are mentally ill -- but this is a parochial mistake. To illustrate that this conventional understanding is false, consider this:
"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses."
-- Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630 AD)
Whats the implication?

Why do people want to "fit in"? -- why do they crave other people's approval? -- why do they want to be accepted by a group? Instead of having a goal of social acceptance, why don't they have a goal of living morally? One might say that he can have both goals, but he'd be wrong.

Either he seeks to do the right thing, or he seeks to do what other's will approve of. Sometimes these two goals don't conflict, in which case there's no problem, and seeking approval was unnecessary. But what about when these goals do conflict? How should one choose which goal matters? Should he choose (1) the right thing that won't be accepted by the group, or (2) the wrong thing that will be accepted by the group? If he chooses (1), then the group is immoral and he shouldn't want acceptance from immoral people. If he chooses (2), then he's choosing immorality, and to make matter's worse he's partaking and thus condoning the group's immorality.

Consider this hypothetical situation. A person enjoys biology and she wants to earn money doing some kind of work involving biology. She wants to get good grades in highschool so that she can be accepted into a good university. And she wants to attend a good university so that she can have lots of opportunities after university. One day some friends of hers say they are skipping school that day and have asked her to join them. She declines explaining her reasoning that she wants to stay in school to keep up her grades. They respond by saying that one day won't cause a problem and they again ask  her to go, this time with some peer pressure tactics like "come on, it won't be fun without you".

Now she's conflicted. She wants to stay in school so that she can keep up her grades but she also wants to join her friends so that they will accept her in the social group. How does she resolve this conflict of goals? If she goes with them, she is sacrificing her preference for staying in school to keep up her grades. If she doesn't go with them, she is sacrificing her preference for acceptance. So she loses either way. What should she do? The conventional understanding of how she should choose involves "weighing" options. It implies that she could figure out which of the two options she values "more", but this doesn't work. We cannot meaningfully "weigh" options. What we should do is refute the options that are bad, leaving only one good option. How does this work? In the case of this hypothetical, the girl should criticize her options. She could ask herself the following questions:

After having told my friends my reasoning for wanting to stay in school, why did they insist on me sacrificing my values just so that they could get what they want? Because they are thinking selfishly.

Why don't they care that I get what I want? Because they are thinking selfishly.

If I sacrifice what I want, and if that leads to failure, will they support me financially? No, because they are thinking selfishly.

If I don't go with them, thus preserving my life plan, is that selfish thinking? Yes.

What do I gain by doing what they want? I gain acceptance by people who don't care about my values and are willing to coerce me to sacrifice my values -- not only are they selfish, they are also willing to hurt me to get their way.

What do I gain by staying in school? I get to preserve my life plan.


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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is selfishness immoral?

Why do people think selfishness is immoral? Its because they have a zero-sum worldview. They believe that conflicts of interest are unchangeable. They believe that the result of conflicts is inevitably that someone loses while the other wins. In this context, a selfish person is interested in himself winning, and he doesn't care that other people lose as a consequence of his decisions.

These people also believe that altruism is good. They believe that one *must* sacrifice his own interests, in order for other people to get what they want.

But the zero-sum worldview is wrong. The rival theory, non-zero-sum, is the correct theory. Conflicts of interest are not inherent facts of human nature. People in a conflict (*any* conflict) *can* reach a common preference such that no one loses -- they all win.

People with the non-zero-sum worldview believe that selfishness is good. In this context, a selfish person is interested in himself winning, and he expects the other person to win too, and he tries to make it happen. So both people get what they want -- a common preference, so they both win.

These people believe that altruism is bad. They believe that they don't have to sacrifice their interests in order for the other person to get what they want.

There is an objective morality about every conflict, an objectively better choice -- namely one that allows everyone to get what they want. To say that selfishness must be at the expense of others is to deny that *all problems are soluble*, specifically conflicts of interest.

Ayn Rand called this view Rational Selfishness. So Rational Selfishness is selfishness with a non-zero-sum worldview. The immoral type of selfishness is Irrational Selfishness, which is selfishness with a zero-sum worldview.

David Deutsch created the process known as Finding Common Preferences. See his book _The Beginning of Infinity_.


- Zero-sum situation: A situation in which one person wins (+1) and another loses (-1) such that the sum is zero (1 + -1 =0).

- Non-zero-sum situation: A situation in which one person wins (+1) and the other does too (+1) such that the sum is above zero (1 + 1 = +2).

- Problem: A conflict of ideas, e.g. a disagreement between two people, or a conflict of two or more ideas within one person.


- All problems are soluble. (Credited to David Deutsch in his book _The Beginning of Infinity_.)

- All life is problem solving. (Credited to Karl Popper in his book _All life is problem solving_.)


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why do people rationalize?

Someone said: "Rationalizing is a thing we *all* do, to feel better about who we are and what we believe in … the stronger the hold of the belief, the stronger the rationalizing."

No. Only *some* people do that. Some people have evolved beyond that. But yes, *most* people do rationalize. They do it in order to protect their self-image. Doing so helps them feel better. Rationalizing is irrational. Because it shields ideas from criticism. It resists error-correction.

The people that have evolved beyond rationalizing have rid themselves of the meme (among other memes) that causes a person to feel bad when he feels that his self-image has been attacked. So how does one get rid of this meme? In other words, having this meme is a problem so what is the solution?

The reality is that *having* a self-image is bad. Having a self-image means that a person holds a certain set of ideas as his. Ideas that he doesn't want to change, because they *define* him. This is bad because its possible that any one of those cherished ideas could be wrong. So if you resist change of any one of your ideas, then you stay mistaken about the mistaken ones. This is problematic, so what is the solution?

*All* of my ideas are on the table. That includes all my preferences, all my interests, all my beliefs, and so on. Any of them could be wrong. So if someone tells me (or I have) a criticism of any one of my ideas, I will consider that criticism (where most people would rationalize it away as untrue with the goal of protecting their self-image).

Another problem that causes people to feel bad when they think their self-image is attacked, is the meme that causes people to feel shame when their mistakes are exposed. The implication is that mistakes are bad. But mistakes aren't inherently bad. Humans are fallible. That means that we all make mistakes. It means no one is perfect. So if we take that meme to its logical conclusion, then *all* humans should be ashamed. Of course this is ridiculous. The reality is that mistakes are common. They are so common that most mistakes go unnoticed by the person making them. So if someone exposes a mistake of mine (one that went unnoticed by me), that gives me the opportunity to correct that mistaken idea (i.e. to prevent that type of mistake in the future). So that makes me a better person. I've improved myself. I've become a better person, a better father, a better worker. So the act of exposing my mistake led to my becoming a better person. So exposing one's' mistakes is good!

So why would mistakes be considered shameful? Why do people think this way? Its because they learned it from their parents and society. Parents punish their children for making mistakes (like hitting/scolding/frowning/timeouts). Teachers punish their students for making mistakes (like taking points off tests). And employers punish their employees for making mistakes (write-ups and scoldings). And society frowns on people who get punished. So this *mistakes are shameful* meme is prevalent among almost 100% of the human population.

- If you read this far, then you'll learn from this:
- And if you liked that, then you should read Elliot Temple's whole site: 


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Friday, October 12, 2012

Abuse and Anger

An abusive act is one that can be expected to hurt someone (physically and/or psychologically). The abuser could be doing it consciously or subconsciously, and so he might not know that his act is hurting someone. The other person may or may not get hurt depending on his interpretation of the abusive behavior and depending on the contextual details of the specific situation. Interestingly, in situations where the abuser is doing it consciously, if the intended victim doesn't get hurt as intended, then the abuser may try to find other ways to hurt him until he succeeds (and even then he might not stop searching for new ways to hurt the victim).

People usually learn these abusive ways (aka habits) from their parents. They experienced abusive behavior as victims and now they commit the behavior as abusers, but this is not automatic. By that I mean that not every child of abusive parents learns abusive behavior. Often, children experience abusive behavior and reject it as immoral and so they don’t do that sort of behavior to *their* children. This happens on a case by case basis, so a kid might learn some specific abusive behaviors and not others. Sometimes a child is abused at such a young age where he doesn't have enough rational sophistication to know to reject the behavior as immoral, in which case he could make it a habit, and he may never criticize that habit in adulthood. And so he'll do it to his kids, and his kids may learn it, and the cycle continues. This idea of abusing people as a means to an end is a meme that has been replicating in the human population since the first time that parents abused their children.

Another way people learn abusive behavior is by using their own creativity to design new ways of abusing with the intention of hurting someone. In these cases it’s definitely a conscious thinking process.

Abusive behavior is closely associated with the emotion of anger. In most situations, if a person isn’t angry, then he won’t be abusive (that’s not to say that every case of anger towards someone is abuse).

In most situations of anger, the person wants to hurt someone. Sometimes the person is angry at a situation, rather than a person, in which case they say things like, “I’m not angry at you, just my situation,” and “I’m just venting.” But sometimes even in these situations, he’s *also* angry at the victim. An example of this is where a parent is angry about something that happened at work, and he comes home wanting to relax and wind down, and immediately his child makes a request, and parent snaps at him saying, “I JUST GOT HOME!!!” Then afterwards he might say to his child that he wasn't angry at his child but actually he was -- he’s angry at his child for not allowing him to relax and wind down, but he fools himself into believing that he wasn't angry at his child -- he's shifting responsibility.

So how does someone improve himself so that he stops hurting people? He must realize that abuse and anger hurt people. That abuse and anger are habits that we learned. And that we all have the capacity to change our habits.

Then we must accept responsibility for our habits, and other problems in general -- not necessarily that we are at fault for learning our habits or causing our problems, but that we are at fault for not working to change them now. If we deny responsibility, then we are living passively, allowing our habits to control us, and allowing our problems to cause hurt on ourselves and on others. Instead, if we accept responsibility, then we are actively trying to change our habits and to solve our problems. Now there's a lot of bad conventional ideas that claim that we are not responsible for some things, and then people use these ideas as rationalizations to deny responsibility (i.e. subconsciously fooling themselves). Sometimes they do it because it’s easier than accepting responsibility. Sometimes they do it because it helps them feel better that they are not to blame. But the reality is that by accepting responsibility we are giving ourselves the opportunity to correct our mistakes and prevent them going forward. And without that then we are allowing our mistakes to continue to hurt ourselves and others.

Another necessary component to changing our habits is knowledge of how to change habits. It requires noticing problems in our actions, thoughts, and emotions. And the only reliable way to notice problems is to reflect on our actions, thoughts, and emotions. This act of reflecting is itself a habit. It’s something that we have to learn. It’s something that will take a lot of effort and a long time before we get good at it. And like all learning, its incremental. Each time we do it, we are solving a problem. And with each solution, we are incrementally improving our ability to change our habits.

If we don’t learn this habit of reflection, then we won’t notice a lot of our problems, problems that are causing hurt on ourselves and others.

So the most important thing is the right attitude. The wrong attitude gives people the psychological motivation to fool themselves. The right attitude gives people the psychological motivation for finding their flaws so that they can improve themselves without limit. This is one important and necessary layer of error-correction against the common mistake of fooling ourselves.

More on psycho-epistemology


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why don’t Ex-Muslims go public?

_Why don’t Ex-Muslims go public?_

There are many reasons Ex-Muslims have for not going public. For some, they fear retaliation because Islam instructs Muslims to kill apostates. For others, they are concerned that Muslims in their communities will gossip about them. And for some it’s about wanting to teach their kids morals while believing that religion is the only way to teach morality. I’ll explain why these last two ideas are wrong, and how they are both caused by a more general problem that applies to all people, not just Ex-Muslims.

Caring what others think

The first idea is about caring what other people think of you. It’s something people learn during childhood. It’s ironic because as parents we tell our kids not to care what other kids think of them, and we do this to persuade them to say ‘no’ to peer pressure.

So clearly we know this principle that it’s wrong to make decisions based on what others think. So why do these same parents still care what others think of them? With respect to Ex-Muslims, they care about what Muslims in the community are going to say about them. Why is there this inconsistency in their thinking?

The answer lies in the fact that, like everybody else, they have conflicting ideas about lots of things in their lives. But surely a lot of people notice the inconsistencies in their thinking so why don’t they fix them? Well, it’s because it’s not so straightforward because we aren't aware of many of our ideas, i.e. we know them subconsciously. How could this be? To know this we have to know how people learn ideas.

How people learn ideas

We learn ideas mostly from society (which includes our parents). We also learn ideas on our own using our own creativity. As for the ideas learned from society, a lot of these ideas are learned subconsciously, and are also taught subconsciously. To illustrate this, consider that a lot of people dress up nice when they go out for dinner; it’s a social norm. Their kids see this and what do they learn? That it’s important to look a certain way so that other people think about you in a certain way. Now some parents will deny this stating that they want to look good for themselves not for others. But what they explicitly say doesn’t matter. What matters is that kids learn ideas using their own creativity and the details of the situation they are presented with. So let's say for example that mom asks dad how she looks in her dress. She is expressing that she cares what others think of how she looks. And say dad says that the women are going to be envious of her, and that all the guys jaws are going to drop. He is expressing what he thinks those other people are going to be thinking. So that’s what most kids learn, to be concerned with what others will think of them.

So the parent teaches an idea while not being aware that he’s teaching it -- i.e. subconsciously -- and the kid learned that idea while not being aware that he learned it -- i.e. subconsciously. And these ideas exist subconsciously in the kid’s mind and they pervade a lot of his thinking without him being aware of it. And then he does the same with his kids, and the cycle continues. This is a serious problem so how can this be stopped?

The answer lies in the difference between people that care what others think and those that don’t. What’s the difference between them? Well, society has an answer. They label the latter group as “asocial”. This label carries with it a negative connotation, that there is something ‘wrong’ with them, and kids pick up on this. What is the implication? It’s that if you don’t follow society, then you are living immorally.

Asocial behavior is living immorally?

Notice that this idea presupposes that society is always right. But it’s common knowledge that there are many things wrong in society, in society’s social norms, for example Islam. In Islamic communities, the social norm is to believe in Islam. So this raises the question: Is it wrong to ‘break away from societies’ norms when you think society is wrong about a specific idea’? Of course not! So this contradicts the previous idea that ‘breaking away from society is living immorally’. And since these two ideas contradict each other, only one of them could be true. So which one is it? Well, one of them hinges on a falsehood while the other doesn’t, which is that society is always right. Now you decide. You judge for yourself, which idea is the right one?

So why is it that some kids do what they think is right even if it goes against society? It boils down to how people judge ideas. Most people do it by popularity. But this is the wrong way to approach ideas. A good example is this in history is of the ancient view that the Earth was flat. When the first guy started saying that the Earth was round, should people have judged his idea to be false because it wasn’t the popular view? Of course not! So judging ideas by popularity is false logic. That means you should never, under any circumstances, judge ideas by popularity. Truth cannot be determined by popularity contests.

How should a person judge ideas?

So how should a person judge ideas?  Should he judge by authority – like his parents, or teachers, or religious or political leaders? Well they are often mistaken like society is often mistaken. So judging ideas by authority is wrong too. But what about judging ideas by science? Doesn’t science have the answers? Even science is mistaken sometimes, actually often. For example, Einstein’s theory of gravity showed that Newton’s theory of gravity was false. Newton’s theory *approximately* (i.e. contains some error) works in some situations and it is completely wrong in other situations (where objects are moving near to the speed of light).

And there are many other instances in history where science was found to be wrong. This is why science uses the term ‘theory’ instead of ‘fact’. We don’t say Einstein’s Fact of Gravity. Why? Because we know that there is the possibility that in the future someone will show that it’s false. Einstein was wrong about Quantum Mechanics. And the early Quantum Mechanics theorists were found to be wrong by Everett about the implications of Quantum Mechanics on reality, which is that the Universe is actually a Multiverse.

The right way to judge ideas is the focus of epistemology, which is the study of how knowledge is created.

Ever since Aristotle created his epistemology, which is now known as Justified True Belief (JTB), philosophers and society in general have been using it to judge ideas as true or false. This theory claims that it is possible to know absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, that an idea is true. And if it’s not known to be true, then it’s not knowledge. Sound promising? Well in the mid-20th century, Karl Popper showed that this theory is false.

Justified True Belief theory is false

Justified True Belief theory says that for an idea to be true, it must be justified by an underlying truth. So what about that underlying truth? How do we know that that underlying idea is true. Well we have to use the same logic, that the underlying idea must be justified by a truth. So how do we know that that underlying idea is true? Well we have to use the same logic again, that the underlying idea is justified by a truth. But where does this end? Well it doesn’t end because it can’t end. It runs infinitely. This is known as an (infinite) regress problem. And so this refutes the JTB theory. So Popper showed us that an idea cannot be labeled as the truth by justification. So we should not, under any circumstances, judge ideas by justification.

Interestingly, the vast majority of society uses Aristotle’s epistemology. You can see it in their reasoning when they have disagreements. They respond with statements like:

-        “Why should I believe you… what are your credentials that prove that you know what you’re talking about?”  Here the person is judging an idea by asking for justification by the authority of the other person’s credentials.

-        “My Daddy said so, so you’re wrong.”  Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his father.

-        “I saw it with my own two eyes, so I know it’s true.”  Here the person judges his idea by justifying it by the authority of his senses.

-        “I know she wouldn’t cheat on me because she loves me and I love her.”  Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his emotions.

-        “I know your idea is false because it contradicts my entire life’s worth of experiences and the experiences of everyone I know and everything I’ve ever known.” Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his experience.

-        “I know it because I remember it so vividly.” Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of his memory and of his perceptions of his senses.

-        “I know Allah exists because the Quran proves it, because the Quran is absolutely perfect, and no other holy book has this quality of perfection.”  Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of Muslim scholars who claim that the Quran is perfect.

-        “I know Islam is right. How could a billion people be wrong?” Here the person judges an idea by justifying it by the authority of popularity.

All of these ideas use this false JTB logic about how to judge which ideas are true.

So how should we judge ideas? I already gave you the answer. I said to judge ideas for yourself, using your own reasoning. This is the only way that works, because it’s the only way that can correct errors. All the other ways of judging ideas causes you to adopt other people’s mistaken ideas with no possibility for correcting them. Will you be wrong sometimes? Of course! You’ll be wrong a lot. We are fallible beings. We can be mistaken about any one of our ideas. And from any one person’s perspective, everybody else can be mistaken about any of their ideas. So no one should judge an idea to be true just because other people believe it. Your parents could be mistaken. Your religion could be mistaken. Your doctor could be mistaken. Your perception of your senses, your emotions, your gut feelings, and your memory can be mistaken.

So each person should judge ideas using his own best judgment. How does this work? When he notices a problem in one or more of his ideas, then he can use his best judgment to try to correct it. A problem is a conflict between two ideas. It’s a problem because one of them must be mistaken. Actually, both of them could be mistaken but this doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can work towards solving the problem by judging that one or both of those ideas is false, again using your own best judgment.

How knowledge is created

So how does this work in practice? Popper explained that knowledge is created by guessing and criticizing. You guess an idea, and then anybody criticizes it, and then anybody criticizes those criticisms. And the guesses left uncriticized are considered the “truth”, for now. In the future, someone may come along with a new criticism of that “truth”, and the cycle continues. So, a “truth” is only an “idea” that I currently don’t have any criticisms of.

It’s important to note what I mean by “truth”. I mean ‘conjectural’ truth, which is distinct from objective truth. Conjectural truth comes from our guessing and criticizing. Objective truth exists independently of us humans. Our goal is to evolve our conjectural knowledge towards the objective knowledge. Step-by-step, as a society, and each one of us as individuals, are evolving our conjectural knowledge towards the objective knowledge.

So how do we know when we’ve reached it? How do we know when one of our conjectural truths has reached the status of objective truth? We don’t. We can’t. We cannot know which of our ideas is not mistaken. Any one of our ideas can be mistaken. So any one of our conjectural truths can be an objective truth, but we don’t know which ones. So, for example, it’s possible that our current moral theories about parenting are perfect, but we don’t know whether someone will come along in the future and find an error in it and correct the theory, or refute the whole theory altogether, similar to how the JTB theory was refuted altogether.

What are the implications of this? It means that all truths are on the table. All truths are open for criticism. That means we are open-minded about every one of our ideas. All of them are open for debate. No idea is protected from criticism.

Does this feel pessimistic – that we can’t know anything for sure? The reality is that we always have mistaken ideas. And these mistaken ideas cause us to make mistakes in our lives. These mistakes are life problems, which are the sources of our suffering. And by living a thoughtful and consistent life, by judging ideas for ourselves, we are able to correct mistaken ideas and reduce the total number of mistaken ideas over time. And what comes with that is making fewer mistakes in life, which means less suffering. So, with each correction of a mistaken idea, one becomes a better person. This is very optimistic!

Monopoly on morality?

This brings me to the other reason Ex-Muslims don’t go public. They believe that religion has a monopoly on morality. They think that there is no other way to teach morality to their kids. But that's just not true. Morality is just a set of moral ideas, ideas about good ways of living. And so, these ideas too have to be created and evolved in the same way we create any other ideas, by guesses and criticism – not by justification by the authority of God.

As an example, consider the Golden Rule. It’s a moral idea that Western society believes to be true, but that Islam hasn’t adopted. It says that we should do to others what we want them to do to us. But this idea is flawed because it presupposes that all people have the same preferences, and it’s common knowledge that people have different preferences. So, if you follow the Golden Rule, you could do something to someone that they didn’t want done to them, which causes suffering. This critical idea explains the flaw in the Golden Rule, which means there is a problem, a conflict of ideas. So what’s the solution?

We can create a new moral idea that uses part of the original idea and we can change the part that is problematic such that it is consistent with the new critical idea. So, the new moral idea is: Act towards others using common preferences, and be willing to find common preferences by rational discussion. With this idea, everyone gets what they want, so no one suffers. And suffering is what the Golden Rule is trying to address.

Now this does not mean that this new moral idea, called Common Preference Finding (CPF), was created by correcting a flaw in the Golden Rule. Ideas can be independently created by many different people from many different angles. For example, David Deutsch arrived at the idea of CPF by first understanding Popper’s theory of the growth of knowledge in science and in society. Then he realized that there is a deep underlying epistemological theory there (and he wasn’t the only one to realize this). He realized that this has implications for how the mind works, and hence for education. Then he applied the epistemology to a knowledge-creating entity consisting of two or more people, such as a family.

Today’s moral knowledge is far more advanced than religious morality. Our current best explanations about people, how they learn, how people should approach conflicts, and how people should live good lives in general, is only a few years old as it evolves continually. But Islamic morality is frozen in time, which was engraved in gold 1,400 years ago in the Qur'an, and stopped evolving since. Interestingly, Muslims say that one of the reasons we should believe it to be true is that it hasn’t ever changed, while other religions, like Christianity and Judaism, have changed over time. So, in the words of Muslims, Christian morality has been evolving with time while Islam never evolves. That is a minus on Islam, not a plus. How ironic!

So among the reasons Ex-Muslims use for not going public, there is only one that makes sense. If you believe that your life would be in danger, let’s say because you live in Saudi Arabia, then lying about your Ex-Muslim status is the preferred option. But if danger is not a problem for you, then what reasons do you have for preferring to lie about your religious beliefs?

Some of you do it because you are concerned about what others will say about you in the community. But does that actually hurt you? “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Do you believe in this principle? If you do, and if you continue to lie that you are a Muslim, then you are teaching your children to be Muslims, to care what others think of them, and to live their lives with known inconsistencies. And no matter what you explicitly say to them, they are learning these ideas from you subconsciously.

And some of you don’t even tell your kids that you don’t believe in Islam because you want to teach them Islamic morals. But as I’ve explained, our best explanations of morality are far more advanced than any religious morality, especially Islamic morality.

You are your child’s role model. What moral ideas are they learning from you?

Why Ex-Muslims should go public

On a final note, there is an important reason that Ex-Muslims should go public. We know that Islamic thinking hurts people – themselves, their families, and others. We know that Islam teaches anti-liberal views  -- it’s forbidden for people to have dissenting ideas. This is why Islam instructs Muslims to physically force people to convert to Islam and to kill apostates. We know that this kind of thinking promotes hate and that Islamic ideas directly promote terrorism. And by lying about being Muslims, we are promoting the replication of Islamic ideas to the next generation of young minds. Do you want your children to live in a world where people continue to turn to terrorism?


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"For some, they fear retaliation because Islam instructs Muslims to kill apostates. For others, they are concerned that Muslims in their communities will gossip about them. And for some it’s about wanting to teach their kids morals while believing that religion is the only way to teach morality. "

I don't think you have hit the more common reasons, which I believe to be not hurting one's family or parents, and avoiding ostracism or punishment from those same people.

But when I said "their communities", I meant *including family members*. But you're right that that doesn't explain the possibility of being punished by one's Muslim father for exposing that you're ex-muslim now, while you're still living in his house. I guess I missed this because I don't think much about being punished or getting punished since I'm 35 years old and I believe punishment is evil/immoral (which means I don't punish my kids).

If I was an ex-muslim while still living under my dads rules, and if my dad was a punisher, then ya i'd keep it hidden too. But not for long. I'd get out as fast as I could.
I also do not think that two ex-Muslim parents would actually think that religion is the only way to teach morals. Didn't they reject religion? Why would you assume this? I have not encountered that belief on this forum.

Some people think punishment is necessary to teach morals, so the idea of a fake punishment in hell for doing bad things is (in their eyes) a useful means of "teaching morals" while not actually doing any punishment.

It's similar to the idea of karma. Karma is like punishment, except that the universe is the one that is supposed to deliver the punishment. So a person that believes in karma is someone who believes that punishment/revenge is good/necessary, but he thinks it's wrong for him to be the one to choose and/or deliver that punishment.


I'm increasingly my public awareness of my disbelief. 
However, I think there will always be a limit to it. My wife is still Muslim, and I don't want to cause her any trouble with her family.
I definitely let them know I have different beliefs (I stand up for homosexuals, don't pray, take differing views in politics...)

My own family, I have dealt with and they know I'm not a Muslim.

If it was just me, I think I'd be more open. But I do have my wife to think about. So I go about it slowly.

And yes, passing a lot of the insecurities and lies about Islam to my kids is a huge concern for me.
But life sadly is not so simple when you have another half.
I've made it clear they won't be a part of the community and everything about Islam has to come from her and she can't talk about hell or anything like that.

Not exactly pure, but workable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is God real?

_Is God real?_

[Before reading this essay, I suggest reading this one: _Why atheists fail to persuade theists_:]

Is God real? Well there is no physical evidence, but billions of people are convinced that God exists. So if not by physical evidence, then why are they convinced? There are many reasons that people use to justify their religious beliefs, similar to the way they justify any beliefs.

The question is: Is God real? But the better question is: What problem does the God idea solve? The reason that this approach is better is that *all* ideas should be approached this way. Every thought and every behavior happens in the context of solving problems. To illustrate this, I’ll explain a few examples using this problem/solution concept.

All life is problem solving

At birth, our problems are few. We are hungry and cold. These situations are problematic because we don’t want to be in these situations. And how do we solve these problems? We cry to alert our parents -– it’s inborn. And it’s our parents’ responsibility to help us solve our problems by presenting us with milk or formula and wrapping us with blankets. And as soon as our problems are solved, we stop crying.

In adulthood, our problems are many. We want shelter, food, transportation, electronics, entertainment, and many other things. And how do we solve these problems? We get jobs to earn money to trade for these things and we do research to find the things that fit our preferences.

Some people are lonely, so they want companionship. And they solve that problem by establishing romantic relationships. Some people also want lifelong commitment, and some of them solve that problem by getting married.

Some people want to attract people sexually, so they solve that problem by going to the gym to get in shape and dressing up sexy.

Some people want to know about how the world works, so they solve that problem by reading books and/or going to school to learn physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, politics, history, and so on.

Now this brings us to the God idea. Some people want to know *why* some things are the way they are. Their problems are that they have important unanswered questions. And their solution to these problems is to accept a religion and its answers to those important questions. But before we jump to the conclusion that the God idea solves these problems, let’s identify the problems.

What problems are people trying to solve with the God idea?

One big reason people accept religion is to accept its moral values. And some people don’t even believe in their religion but they teach it to their kids anyway because they believe that morality can only be taught through religion. So their problem is that they don’t understand morality outside the context of a religion's behavior-punishment moral system. And consequently they don't know how to teach morality otherwise. So their solution is to accept a religion and its moral system of behavior and punishment. The right solution is to consider the moral traditions that already exist in our society and to judge for ourselves which are good/beneficial and which are bad/hurtful.

Another reason people accept religion is to feel like their life has meaning. So their problem is that they feel like their life has no meaning. And their solution is to adopt a religion that tells them the meaning of their lives. They effectively dwarf themselves by accepting that “God is the greatest.” The right solution starts with the idea that we are all individuals, and thus we all have different interests, and so we should all create meaning in our own lives.

Another reason people like religion is because their friends and neighbors expect them to, they can socialize at Churches, and they want to fit in and be good at their social role as a normal member of society. So their problem is that they want to fit in with society and be liked by other members of society. And their solution is to do just that, to “get with the program.”

Then there are reasons people have that they aren’t even aware of. Their lives are full of suffering and they feel stuck. That’s their problem. Actually its many problems that they don’t know how to solve. And they don’t even try. Instead of trying to solve their problems they bury their problems hoping that they will go away on their own. Sometimes they do this by denying that those things are even problematic. They say things like, “well everyone suffers like this so it’s just a part of life” or "it's not even a problem because other people have it much worse than I do."

Another way they bury their problems is by shifting responsibility to other people and to things. The most common way to shift responsibility is to adopt a religion that tells them that they are not responsible for their lives. It helps them feel better about not “being able” to change their situations. It helps them feel better that someone else (God) is responsible for their problems -– he is responsible for giving them the problems and he is responsible for solving them -– and people are responsible for asking him to give them the patience to cope with the problems and asking him to solve their problems. This helps them feel better because in their eyes they are not at fault. So they confuse this relatively positive emotion with reality -– they feel spiritual. The right solution is to take responsibility for everything in your life -- to change one's situation and stop shifting responsibility to other people and nonexistent things like an all-knowing super power.

I think this last reason is the most common problem people have. It’s something that most people deal with, not just theists. Most people live irresponsible lives by denying that they have problems and by shifting responsibility of the problems that they do admit having. It helps them feel better because that way they don’t feel guilty. Some people shift responsibility to their parents, “It’s my dad’s fault that I don’t know how to fix a car or do handy-work because he never taught me.” Some people shift responsibility to their brains, “Please excuse my ADD.” Some shift responsibility to their hormones, “It’s not my fault because I had PMS.”

The world relentlessly throws problems at us, but none of those problems are insoluble. Philosophical thinking is the only reliable way that solves problems. Your life is full of suffering because you have lots of problems that you haven’t solved yet. And you cannot solve your problems if you expect God to solve them for you. Nor can you solve your problems if you think that God gave you your problems.

There is no destiny! We have free will!


Check out my articles on _Why Most Terrorists are Muslims_:

And _Why Ex-Muslims Don't Go Public_: