This whole concept is confusing to me. I enjoy Eliezer’s writing because it makes sense and is useful so it becomes part of my identity. I haven’t found as many of his newer posts to be useful so a lower number of them are drafted into my identity. My ‘self’ is largely a collection of ideas and thoughts transmitted to me from other people and I don’t find anything wrong with this. I do hope to produce useful knowledge myself but for right now I am educating myself to that point.
I have been thinking about this subject for a while because I saw the same type of culture of disagreement prevent a group I was a member of from doing anything worthwhile. The problem is very interesting to me because I come from the opposite side of the spectrum being heavily collectivist. I take pleasure in conforming to a group opinion and being a follower but I also have nurtured a growing rationalist position for the last few years. So despite my love of being a follower I often find myself aspiring to a leadership position in order to weld my favored groups into a cohesive whole rather than an un-unified mob. The only solution I have been able to come up with so far is forming a core of beliefs and values which the group can accept without criticism, even if some of the members disagree with some of the parts. This is of course very hard to do.
After thinking about it more and looking back on my own life I think I have figured out at least four things that led me to this path.
When I was very young I learned that I was a person and that people are separate things. When I think my thoughts are my own, when I act my actions are my own. This can as a very great shock to me. How is it possible that I, of all people, had an identity which is separate from others? I could not see the dividing line between me and others and I could barely even understand why we weren’t all one big group mind acting in union but I knew as I sat there in class one day, looking at other people, that both I and they existed and we were apart.
Once I knew that I could think and could act I slowly over time learned that I was in fact responsible for my actions and thoughts and the consequences of them. The way this happen was strange. I still had a hard time believing that other people could think and act themselves but I knew that when my actions harmed other people they seemed to feel pain or become upset. And this caused me to become upset. I had no intuitive answer for why this was so but it was plainly obvious that it was. Because of this I decided that other people likely function according to the same rules as me.
The toughest bit for me to swallow was the idea that I was never safe. There is no truth, no plan, no philosophy or set of rules that will keep me from making mistakes. Because of this much of my life has been trying to escape from fear. I took refuge in any mode of thought that seemed to promise an escape from uncertainty, from my personal responsibility. And every time I learned that reality was more complex than my philosophy and deeper than my understanding. I could never escape from myself, from my thoughts or from the consequences of my thoughts. And I could never escape from my failures.
To recognize and accept that I did fail and very often is what led me into my current state. If failure happens then what are the reasons? This is where I am now in my personal journey and this is the stage that I stumbled into contact with this social group.
I believed very strongly that my mind was not functioning correctly and I wanted to find techniques to be able to sort through what was real and not real. This led me to begin a very rigorous program of self-examination where I picked at and questioned everything that I am and might become. I continue to do this now but I have learned that I at least seem surprisingly sane compared to my previous view of my self. I have also always had a very strong sense of curiosity tied up with a very impulsive nature. Over time I just experimented with all sorts of things with not much fear of the consequences.
What really turned me on to rationalism specifically was Eliezer’s posting on Overcoming Bias. He inspired me to try to go into the field of math and science in large part because I couldn’t understand barely anything he said and what I did understand supported several pre-conceived notions I held that made me feel superior to other people.
Trying to fix that now. Yep.