Do we have it too easy?
I am worried that I have it too easy. I recently discovered LessWrong for myself, and it feels very exciting and very important and I am learning a lot, but how do I know that I am really on a right way? I have some achievements to show, but there are some worrisome signs too.
I need some background to explain what I mean. I was raised in an atheist/agnostic family, but some time in my early teens I gave a mysterious answer to a mysterious question, and… And long story short, influenced by everything I was reading at the time I became a theist. I wasn’t religious in the sense that I never followed any established religion, but I had my own “theological model” (heavily influenced by theosophy and other western interpretations of eastern religions). I believed in god, and it was a very important part of my life (around the end of high school, beginning of college I started talking about it with my friends and was quite open and proud about it).
Snip 15-20 years. This summer I started lurking on LessWrong, reading mostly Eliezer’s sequences. One morning, walking to the train station, thinking about something I read, my thoughts wondered to how this all affects my faith. And I noticed myself flinching away, and thought “Isn’t this what Eliezer calls “flinching away”?” I didn’t resolve my doubts there and then, but there was no turning back and couple of days later I was an atheist. This is my first “achievement”. The second is: when I got to the “free will” sequence, I stopped before reading any spoilers, gave myself a weekend and I figured it out! (Not perfectly, but at least one part I figured out very clearly, and got important insights into the other part.) Which I would have never thought I would be able to do, because as it happens, this was the original mysterious question on which I got so confused as a teenager. (Another, smaller “achievement” I documented here.)
Maybe these are not too impressive, but they are not completely trivial either (actually, I am a bit proud of myself :)). But, I get a distinct feeling that something is off. Take the atheism: I think, one of the reasons I so easily let go of my precious belief, was that I had something to replace it with. And this is very-very scary, that I sometimes get the same feeling of amazing discovery reading Eliezer as when I was 13, and my mind just accepts it all unconditionally! I have to constantly remind myself that this is not what I should do with it!
Do not misunderstand, I am not afraid of becoming a part of some cult. (I had some experience with less or more strongly cultish groups, and I didn’t have hard time of seeing through and not falling for them. So, I am not afraid. Maybe foolishly.) What I am afraid of, is that I will do the same mistake on a different level: I won’t actually change my mind, won’t learn what’s really matters. Because, even if everything I read here turns out to be 100% accurate, it would be a mistake “believing in it”. Because, as soon as I get to a real-world problem I will just go astray again.
This comment is the closest I saw here on LessWrong to my concerns. It also sheds some light on why is this happening. Eliezer describes the experience vividly enough, that afterwards my mind behaves as if I had the experience too. Which is, of course, the whole point, but also one source of this problem. Because I didn’t have the experience, it wasn’t me who thought it through, so I don’t have it in my bones. I will need much more to make the technique/conclusion a part of myself (and a lot of critical thinking, or else I am worse off and not better.) And no, Eliezer, I don’t know how to make it less dark either. Other than what is already quite clear: we have to be tested on our rationality. The skills have to be tested, or one won’t be able to use them properly. The “free will” challenge is very good, but only if one takes it. (I took it, because it was a crucial question for me.) And not everything can be tested like this. And it’s not enough.
So, my question to more experienced LessWrongers: how did you cope with this (if you had such worries)? Or am I even right on this (do I “worry” in the right direction)?
(Oh, and also, is this content appropriate for a “Main” post? Now that I have enough precious karma. :))