Friday, February 18, 2011

Making Beliefs Pay Rent

Eliezer Yudowsky of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence has a tantalizing notion I hope to practice further. He calls it making your beliefs pay rent. His simple description is as follows,
"Any belief (the mental state in which an individual holds a proposition to be true) should restrict which experiences to anticipate, to be potentially useful and thereby pay rent and earn its keep in your mind, so to speak. If a belief does not affect what you anticipate experiencing—if the world would look exactly the same whether the belief is true or whether it is false—then how could you possibly tell if it were false? And if there's no circumstance under which you would be able to notice your belief were false, then why do you believe it now?"
This principle illuminates my vague notion that there is something wrong with my past respect for intuition as master of reason. I used to be drawn to big personalities who said bold things and referenced vague language that seemed to access intuitive revealed knowledge.

I remember one boss who would encourage those that worked for him by declaring that each one of us were forces of nature who held vast creative power to change the world.

This is good rhetoric but the reality is we would have been more comfortable working together if we admitted the limits of our powers and sought to maximize our efficiencies by recognizing that simply being human does not give one phenomenological abilities to bend the laws of space-time.

I think the belief we had "force of nature" powers was not true and probably was a product of our inferiority complexes and our boss's fear.

I also have become uncomfortable with creative folks I meet either in my day job in advertising or my vocation in play-writing who invoke a devotion to irrationality as a way of understanding reality.

A few folks I know have said recently that logic is good as far as it is practiced in science but within living life one must surrender to something other than logic (they never say what exactly, maybe they mean intuition) as the compass for understanding truth.

I recognize the sentiment to embrace the power of now by sounding my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world (because I've sung this song of myself in the past, usually accompanied by anxiety or nervousness) but no longer see that expression as a disciplined way of seeking after what is true.

It seems more like an energetic blast of belief to rationalize what I'd like to be true.

The beliefs we hold might allow us to enjoy emotional experiences based on their imagined causative links to real experiences but if the belief does not anticipate an actual external experience then the rent it is costing to take up brain space is, to quote Jimmy McMillan, "too damn high!"

I'm going to blog further about what I discover when practicing this principle.

I can see now that the first lesson it teaches me is that what I held as beliefs are not true and the intelligence I thought I had, I don't.

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