Don’t Believe You’ll Self-Deceive

I don’t mean to seem like I’m pick­ing on Kurige, but I think you have to ex­pect a cer­tain amount of ques­tion­ing if you show up on Less Wrong and say:

One thing I’ve come to re­al­ize that helps to ex­plain the dis­par­ity I feel when I talk with most other Chris­ti­ans is the fact that some­where along the way my world-view took a ma­jor shift away from blind faith and landed some­where in the vicinity of Or­wellian dou­ble-think.

“If you know it’s dou­ble-think... can you still be­lieve it?” I hel­plessly want to say.


I chose to be­lieve in the ex­is­tence of God—de­liber­ately and con­sciously. This de­ci­sion, how­ever, has ab­solutely zero effect on the ac­tual ex­is­tence of God.

If you know your be­lief isn’t cor­re­lated to re­al­ity, how can you still be­lieve it?

Shouldn’t the gut-level re­al­iza­tion, “Oh, wait, the sky re­ally isn’t green” fol­low from the re­al­iza­tion “My map that says ‘the sky is green’ has no rea­son to be cor­re­lated with the ter­ri­tory”?

Well… ap­par­ently not.

One part of this puz­zle may be my ex­pla­na­tion of Moore’s Para­dox (“It’s rain­ing, but I don’t be­lieve it is”)—that peo­ple in­tro­spec­tively mis­take pos­i­tive af­fect at­tached to a quoted be­lief, for ac­tual cre­dulity.

But an­other part of it may just be that—con­trary to the in­dig­na­tion I ini­tially wanted to put for­ward—it’s ac­tu­ally quite easy not to make the jump from “The map that re­flects the ter­ri­tory would say ‘X’” to ac­tu­ally be­liev­ing “X”. It takes some work to ex­plain the ideas of minds as map-ter­ri­tory cor­re­spon­dence builders, and even then, it may take more work to get the im­pli­ca­tions on a gut level.

I re­al­ize now that when I wrote “You can­not make your­self be­lieve the sky is green by an act of will”, I wasn’t just a dis­pas­sion­ate re­porter of the ex­ist­ing facts. I was also try­ing to in­still a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It may be wise to go around de­liber­ately re­peat­ing “I can’t get away with dou­ble-think­ing! Deep down, I’ll know it’s not true! If I know my map has no rea­son to be cor­re­lated with the ter­ri­tory, that means I don’t be­lieve it!”

Be­cause that way—if you’re ever tempted to try—the thoughts “But I know this isn’t re­ally true!” and “I can’t fool my­self!” will always rise read­ily to mind; and that way, you will in­deed be less likely to fool your­self suc­cess­fully. You’re more likely to get, on a gut level, that tel­ling your­self X doesn’t make X true: and there­fore, re­ally truly not-X.

If you keep tel­ling your­self that you can’t just de­liber­ately choose to be­lieve the sky is green—then you’re less likely to suc­ceed in fool­ing your­self on one level or an­other; ei­ther in the sense of re­ally be­liev­ing it, or of fal­ling into Moore’s Para­dox, be­lief in be­lief, or be­lief in self-de­cep­tion.

If you keep tel­ling your­self that deep down you’ll know—

If you keep tel­ling your­self that you’d just look at your elab­o­rately con­structed false map, and just know that it was a false map with­out any ex­pected cor­re­la­tion to the ter­ri­tory, and there­fore, de­spite all its elab­o­rate con­struc­tion, you wouldn’t be able to in­vest any cre­dulity in it—

If you keep tel­ling your­self that re­flec­tive con­sis­tency will take over and make you stop be­liev­ing on the ob­ject level, once you come to the meta-level re­al­iza­tion that the map is not re­flect­ing—

Then when push comes to shove—you may, in­deed, fail.

When it comes to de­liber­ate self-de­cep­tion, you must be­lieve in your own in­abil­ity!

Tell your­self the effort is doomed—and it will be!

Is that the power of pos­i­tive think­ing, or the power of nega­tive think­ing? Either way, it seems like a wise pre­cau­tion.