Kill the Buddha

There’s a Zen maxim that commands this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”

There are several closely related interpretations of this maxim in Buddhist tradition. The most obvious one is that worship of the Buddha interferes with comprehending what he actually said – that religious fetishization is the enemy of enlightenment.

While I completely agree with this interpretation, I’m writing to argue for a more subtle and epistemological one. I interpret Zen Buddhism as a set of practices for not tripping over your own mind – avoiding our tendency to bin experiences into categories so swiftly and completely that we stop actually paying attention to them, not becoming imprisoned by fixed beliefs, not mistaking maps for territories, always remaining attentive to what actually is. Perhaps the most elegant expression of this interpretation is this koan setting forth the problem: “The mind is like a dog. His master points at the moon, but he barks at the hand.”

In this sense, Zen is discipline that assists instrumental rationalism by teaching important forms of self-monitoring and mental hygiene – in effect very similar to General Semantics.

In this interpretation of Zen, “killing the Buddha” can be taken to stand for a very specific practice or mental habit. Here’s how it works:

Find the premise, or belief, or piece of received knowledge that is most important to you right at this moment, and kill it.

That is, imagine the world as it would be if the most cherished belief in your thoughts at this moment were false. Then reason about the consequences. The more this exercise terrifies you or angers you or undermines your sense of self, the more brutally necessary it is that you kill your belief.

Sanity is measured by the ability to recognize evidence that your beliefs are wrong, and to detach yourself from them in order to form improved beliefs that conform to reality and better predict your future experiences. Killing the Buddha is an exercise to strengthen your sanity, to decrease your resistence to inconvenient facts and disruptive arguments. It teaches you not to become attached to beliefs, as you gradually learn that your rational coping capacity transcends any specific belief about how the universe is.

Being sane, being rational, does not consist of attachments and knowledge and beliefs. You do not become one whit more rational by knowing Newton’s Laws or the Periodic Table or the Pythagorean Theorem, or by believing evolutionary theory; what matters is how you acquired such beliefs and how you maintain them.

Sanity is the process by which you continually adjust your beliefs so they are predictively sound. By regularly killing the Buddha, you prepare yourself for those moments in which you must abandon a belief not because you choose to do it as a mental exercise but because experience of reality tells you it has failed the predictive test and is thus false.

When you have reached the point that killing the Buddha every day no longer frightens you, but is instead a central part of your self-discipline that you greet each and every day as an opportunity to learn, you are on the road to full sanity.

But only on the road. Your next challenge, which never ends, is to learn how to see — and kill — the Buddhas that are invisible because they lurk behind your own eyes.

111 thoughts on “Kill the Buddha

  1. I must be dense. I’m not seeing the connection from the motivational speech to what I’m talking about, though the connection to Miyamoto Musashi seems a little clearer.

  2. I’ll reflect about the main topic a bit later, first about Zen: one thing that we tend to forget is that Zen is primarily something for monks. As in: for people who work with their minds inside a kind of a sterile laboratory which purposefully isolates them from many of the usual temptations lay people face.

    Actually it is a problem not with just Zen but with about 95% of Buddhism that it is by monks, for monks and therefore the priorities are not optimal for lay people. The number of teachers and lineages which are clearly by lay people for lay people who have sex, drink beer and engage in economic activity is rather low – the best example is probably Marpa from Tibet, whose teachings and lifestyle have been incorporated into the Karma-Kagyü school.

    And the interesting aspect is that in such dedicatedly lay Buddhism the priorities are different from those of monks, including Zen monks.

    Yes, the whole set of problems you describe here, which these lay teachers (Lama Ole Nydahl) call “fixed ideas” is there, it is important, it is emphasized, it is never denied. But in such dedicatedly lay Buddhism this gets a slightly lower priority than another set of problems called “disturbing emotions”, which roughly correlate with the “passions” of Greek philosophers, “sins” of Christians, “character faults” or “vices” of Franklin & Lincoln-type XVIII. – XIX. century people; the five most important being ignorance, desire (incl. lust/greed/gluttony/desire for power), jealousy/envy, hatred/anger/fear, and pride/vanity, plus a number of lesser ones.

    The way it is described – usually called the “mind-only” philosophy, Cittamatra, also called “yoga-practitioner” (Yogacara) because it is strongly based on actual meditation experience – is this: there is the mind, and there is the original mistake of the mind that it does not recognize that the thing experienced and the ability or awareness to experience are both parts of the mind. The mind mistakes the thing experienced as “the other”, or “the world”, and the awareness that experiences as an “I”. From this arise the disturbing emotions: if the thing experienced is seen as good for the experiencer, arises clinging or desire, if it is seen as hostile to it, arises hatred, anger of fear and so on. Plus from this separation the fixed ideas arise – roughly the same problems what you have described.

    Now, the point is, that a strong and exclusive focus on the problem of fixed ideas might be all right if either one is isolated from the usual disturbing emotions (as Zen monks and other monks are) or is one already on a very high level, has a small ego and few attachments, like a budget model vacuum cleaner.

    But, for the average lay person, the radical skepticisim of focusing on the problem of fixed ideas, like the way it is done in Zen, might be dangerous. And maybe the same thing can be said for General Semantics. On the lower levels of awareness, say, on the level of big egos, strong passions, strong emotions, “vices”, “sins”, when one has little self-control, it is actually very dangerous to to be too skeptical, one is better off by sticking to some rules and saying “X is BAD, this is an objective value judgement for me, period”, which is absolutely speaking, of course not true, just a fixed idea and an illusion but useful illusion in such cases, as a hopefully just temporary measure.

    On the level of the average lay person, “don’t be a slave of your passions, even it takes making up some completely fake, quasi-objective rules about values which are nothing but fixed ideas that on the absolute level cannot be justified” can be more useful than being strictly skeptical and critical about any kind of fixed idea like the Zen monks do.

    This can every person evaluate himself/herself by simply making a list of things we know we should do or should not do but are just not able to conjure the willpower to actually do so.

    My list is rather long – cigarettes, booze, Internet addiction, caffeine addiction, sticking to safe but boring, uncreative jobs out of risk-avoidance, and so on. Obviously at such a low level Zen-type radical skepticism is not useful and even dangerous, I am better off making up some fixed ideas for myself, of the “getting hammered too often is BAD, BAD, feel bad about it, vice, sin, bad doggie!”, even though they cannot be justified on the absolute level at all. (That’s what I like Catholics – I disagree with their theology and ontology but their psychology seems to be the same “bad doggie” psychology I use on myself to keep my faults within manageable limits.)

    But this and similar sets of problems describe most of humanity, of course – martial artist hackers with huge amounts of willpower to do what they actually want to and not do what they don’t want to are outliers, are exceptions, are not the norm, for them such radical skepticism might not be dangerous and can of course very beneficial – but for most of us it can be dangerous.

  3. Hypothesis: you are not a Boltzmann brain. Your body, your mind, your memory of the past, your memory of what you were thinking about a tenth of a second ago, arose through some ordered process. All of these things did not blink into existence just an instant ago through some random fluctuation of whatever-it-is-that-holds-reality-together, and it is not likely that they will all blink of out of existence just an instant from now.

    Is this a Buddha you’re willing to kill?

  4. >Is this a Buddha you’re willing to kill?

    Yes. Because I can reason about the consequences and rapidly conclude that as long as the universe and/or my mind popped into being with regularities as if it had a consistent history, then the difference between “I am not a Boltzmann brain” and “I am a Boltzman brain” has no observable consequences and there’s no point in my being worried about it.

    OK, the universe and my mind might be a huge quantum fluctuation that blinks out of existence any second. So what? That wouldn’t be an observable event either, and there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it if it were. So, again, there’s no point in my being worried about it.

  5. I engaged in this exercise just this morning with my father. Attempting to kill the non-aggression principle. I am perceptive enough to see that a sociopath who understands a moral code can use it to their advantage. Turning an opponents moral code into a weakness to exploit. If one is bent on domination and nothing else, this tactic is very useful.

    So why is morality seemingly the default position? I would argue that if you slay this particular Buddha, civilization unravels. A Stalin for instance is an aberration, because such a mind is an evolutionary dead end. In a tribal society he would most likely have been banished or killed. Only in a large modern ideologically driven organization in turmoil can such a pathology become malignant. Stalin as the local school superintendent, while unpleasant for a few, would be relatively harmless.

  6. >the original mistake of the mind that it does not recognize that the thing experienced and the ability or awareness to experience are both parts of the mind.

    *snort* This isn’t profound truth, it’s just early Mahayana-Buddhist subjectivism and it’s full of shit. There’s a reason Zen shifted to a conceptualist position after the Sixth Patriarch; subjectivism doesn’t work. It doesn’t predict the way observed reality behaves, which is that there’s stuff out there that has prior causal power over mind even if we never have access to it that’s unmediated by our nervous systems.

    Your whole notion that most people can’t handle skepticism depends on the assumption that an elaborate set of fixed ideas is necessary for self-control. Nonsense! All it takes is the understanding that if you don’t behave in efficient and ethical ways, you become far more likely to eat consequences you don’t like.

    You seem to be peddling an unpleasant form of elitism here. “We must lie to the peasants, otherwise they’ll act out.” I’m not buying it.

  7. Now onto the main topic:

    “Sanity is measured by the ability to recognize evidence that your beliefs are wrong, and to detach yourself from them in order to form improved beliefs that conform to reality and better predict your future experiences.”

    This is perfectly true, very important – but at some level superficial. Lack of sanity is not just an error in a logical process but has much deeper psychological reasons – intellectual vanity, a certain kind of self-centeredness, self-adsorpedness, and so on. Let me just put a bit of Chesterton here and then I’ll go on tomorrow.

    “The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. (…)

    Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. A bullet is quite as round as the world, but it is not the world. There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern religions. Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.”

    http://www.archive.org/details/orthodoxy16769gut

  8. “You seem to be peddling an unpleasant form of elitism here. “We must lie to the peasants, otherwise they’ll act out.””

    Wasn’t I clear that this is a method I use to keep *myself* sane & sober & under control and not someone else?

  9. >So why is morality seemingly the default position? I would argue that if you slay this particular Buddha, civilization unravels.

    That’s a misinterpretation. When I say “Kill the Buddha” I’m not arguing for nihilism. I don’t mean that your most cherished premise has to stay dead, if you can confirm it with observation and sound reasoning after you’ve stopped assuming it. The point is to regularly go through the process of checking your assumptions.

    In this case, we can reconfirm “morality”, or at least large pieces of ethics, by reasoning about the consequences of abandoning premises and noticing when the consequences would imply a lot more suffering and grief.

  10. >Wasn’t I clear that this is a method I use to keep *myself* sane & sober & under control and not someone else?

    No, you were not at all clear. You made general statements about people needing control of passion more than the ability to get past fixed ideas.

  11. Always Be Closing means the same thing as The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means: don’t let the means become the end – and in particular, don’t shelter yourself from the end by focussing on acting out the means.

  12. “All it takes is the understanding that if you don’t behave in efficient and ethical ways, you become far more likely to eat consequences you don’t like.”

    Probably you are either too lucky (as in: genes) or have solved this problem so long ago that you have forgotten it, but the whole tragedy of human life for most folks incl. myself revolves around being able to understand something will cause bad consequences and is therefore ain’t cool on an intellectual level, and being able to conjure the actual willpower to do something about it – the separation between thought and action, should do and actually do, and so on.

    Let me be blunt – you as a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-druggie, non-aggressive, very few regrets etc. etc. type of perfect self-control guy have actually no clue, no hands-on experience about how huge a problem this normally is. I mean essentially this problem _is_ _history_ _itself_ – as in, history is generally and by large a history of (usually state-organized) violence done by people who, theoretically speaking, did not approve of violence in general. Just did it anyway.

  13. Chesterton chases his own tail through several cycles in this quote because he lacks the concept that truth claims have to be falsifiable and justified by predictive success. The madman’s problem is that his delusions meet neither criterion.

    Really, this was not at all interesting. It was the philosophical equivalent of watching a baby finger-paint – perhaps entertaining if you like the particular baby, but far too clumsy and crude to be worth keeping.

  14. “You made general statements about people needing control of passion more than the ability to get past fixed ideas.”

    Yes, but not in the sense of “others suck, but I am so cool”, but in the sense of “I suck, am roughly aware why, and therefore can understand why and how most folks suck too”.

  15. @esr

    >That’s a misinterpretation. When I say “Kill the Buddha” I’m not arguing for nihilism. I don’t mean that your most cherished premise has to stay dead, if you can confirm it with observation and sound reasoning after you’ve stopped assuming it. The point is to regularly go through the process of checking your assumptions.

    Sorry for being unclear. I meant to convey the non-aggression principle survived my attempt at murder.

  16. >being able to understand something will cause bad consequences and is therefore ain’t cool on an intellectual level, and being able to conjure the actual willpower to do something about it

    What makes you think I don’t experience this? As one example, I have lost substantial amounts of money because I often can’t summon up the willpower to do boring paperwork. I understand the need to self-discipline and control passions as well as you do, I think – I just don’t accept that doing so required fixed ideas in the Buddhist sense.

  17. >Sorry for being unclear. I meant to convey the non-aggression principle survived my attempt at murder.

    Oh, good.

  18. >Lack of sanity is not just an error in a logical process but has much deeper psychological reasons – intellectual vanity, a certain kind of self-centeredness, self-adsorpedness, and so on.

    True. So what? When I am exercising my sanity by killing the Buddha, I don’t have to care about this level of explanation much more than I care about the details of glucose respiration when I exercise my muscles. The point of the practice is to become sane, not analyze why I am unsane.

    Actually, killing the Buddha eventually forces you into confrontation with all these issues. But I think it does so in a more constructive and more direct way than if you intellectualize them before hand without connection to an actual Buddha-killing.

  19. Fascinating debate between ESR and Shenpen. (I do not have much knowledge about this and might be adding noise and also it is off-topic.) But on an intuitive level, this seems to parallel the debates which ultimately led to the demise of Buddhism (perhaps of the Zen variety) in India where it originated.

  20. >”Always Be Closing” means the same thing as “The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means”:

    Oh, I got that immediately, yes. What I don’t get is the connection to killing the Buddha and the problem of fixed ideas.

  21. >But on an intuitive level, this seems to parallel the debates which ultimately led to the demise of Buddhism (perhaps of the Zen variety) in India where it originated.

    That is a very interesting claim and I would like to hear you expand on it.

  22. “The point is to regularly go through the process of checking your assumptions.”

    I agree, but my observation is that The World ™ does a pretty good job of forcing one to do so with regularity (assuming one is not pathologically set in her ways and beliefs, or isolated and oblivious to people and events around her.) I guess the major difference is probably that disciplining yourself to do so periodically is less painful and traumatic than having it shoved in your face.

  23. >I guess the major difference is probably that disciplining yourself to do so periodically is less painful and traumatic than having it shoved in your face.

    Exactly so. The more times you kill the Buddha voluntarily, the better you cope when brute reality squashes your beliefs.

  24. always closing

    Musashi and the Oar vs a fixed idea of how the battle should be….yes I get that. Musashi an outcast who thought through his own methods easily defeating received training…yes.

    Perhaps you meant that unless you intend to make the sale, there is no point in trying. That is one dimensional thinking. Solving problems for people is fine. Exploitation for personal gratification is not. That was more the message I got from the jackass with the watch.

    I’m not a closer. I find them rather annoying, like a dog always wanting to hump my leg.

  25. >That is a very interesting claim and I would like to hear you expand on it.

    I can only expand my claim or the idea that I have. It might not be close to the reality and in that case I hope that it doesnt waste your time. But from what I have read (and it isnt a concentrated study), the reason for decline of buddhism as a philosophy in India isnt that well understood. The usual claim that I have heard is that it was brahmannical opposition which wanted to preserve or win back its elite status lost to buddhism. That maybe true but the reason for defeat also parallel some of the arguments which I think Shenpen makes. “the original mistake of the mind that it does not recognize that the thing experienced and the ability or awareness to experience are both parts of the mind.” This is a central part of Sankara’s philosophy, I think. And it is believed that it was Sankara who ultimately defeated all the other major philosophies including buddhism by debate. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adi_Shankara)

    It would be great to know more about how those debates actually went. The commentaries alas seem to end up eulogizing Sankara and present the debate mostly from the view point of the victor, it seems.

    I know my arguments above are very airy fairy. But I confess my ignorance and the desire to learn more about this aspect. Thanks.

  26. If one were to be interested in reading further on General Semantics, is Korzybski’s “Science and Sanity, an Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics” the right place to start or are there better starting points these days?

  27. I attempt to kill my buddha by intentionally reading the opponents of my ideas whenever I encountered such a source, therby torturing my self-worth in the process.

    The only problem is that socialists tend to be the most BOOOORING to read.

    The lesson I learned is that sometime you cannot alway relies on your opponents to kill your buddha. You must do it yourself.

  28. “The mind is like a dog. His master points at the moon, but he barks at the hand.”
    He?

    Also: Is there a crucial difference between this koan and the common western expression “missing the forest for the tree” that I’m not seeing?

  29. >If one were to be interested in reading further on General Semantics, is Korzybski’s “Science and Sanity, an Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics” the right place to start or are there better starting points these days?

    There are better. I would recommend People in Quandaries or Language in Thought And Action. Eventually you’ll want to read Korzybski, but he’s very dense and a terrible writer.

  30. >He?

    That is, the dog’s master points at the moon, but the dog barks at the hand.

    Also: Is there a crucial difference between this koan and the common western expression “missing the forest for the tree” that I’m not seeing?

    Yes, quite an important one. When you miss the forest for the trees you over-focus on concrete details and are unable to abstract or reason about larger entities properly. The koan is much more general but centers on the opposite problem – focusing only on abstractions, not on concrete reality.

  31. >I know my arguments above are very airy fairy. But I confess my ignorance and the desire to learn more about this aspect. Thanks.

    I don’t know enough about that corner of Buddhist history to respond or critique. This goes on my list of topics to investigate, thanks.

  32. >That was more the message I got from the jackass with the watch.

    The jackass with the watch can be interpreted in two ways, and I was conscious of both of them as I viewed that. On the one hand, yes, he’s a jackass who exploits people. On the other hand, there is a Musashi-like purity there, a ruthless willingness to discard all attachments other than to the goal. He’s repellent and admirable at the same time.

    I think, also, we’re supposed to both sympathize with the scruffy humanity of the people he’s berating and see them as losers.The scene was well-constructed to forbid simple, one-dimensional interpretation.

    I still don’t see what the clip has to do with my original post, though.

  33. @ esr

    >I think, also, we’re supposed to both sympathize with the scruffy humanity of the people he’s berating and see them as losers.The >scene was well-constructed to forbid simple, one-dimensional interpretation.

    I got that. I found myself irritated that none of them had the balls to simply walk.

    This type of motivational technique is not foreign to me, having been on both the giving and receiving end. It is appropriate and effective in certain skill based settings with the right personalities.

    I enjoyed it, but I don’t see how it fits. I was trying to find some way that it could be construed to fit. I await enlightenment.

  34. …It should be ‘it’ instead of ‘he’, is what I meant….

    Oh, I thought you were making a very subtle joke. How disappointing.

  35. Always test your assumptions for predictive value.
    Especially test the assumptions you receive from others for predictive value.
    Always point out the things you do not know when you present the results of your test; doing so is a sign of wisdom, not ignorance.

  36. Interesting. My first reaction to that saying was, “Thou shalt not suffer a Buddha impersonator to live,” but that definitely doesn’t fit in with what I know of Buddhist philosophy.

    I think I’ll start trying out this exercise. It’s probably less obnoxious and more effective than my current techniques.

    Currently, I accomplish this kind of thing in two ways. First of all, I can clarify my understanding of a topic (especially some kind of scientific or mathematical topic) by explaining it to someone who doesn’t understand it at all; this forces me to look at my beliefs through totally new eyes. Second of all, argument can be a useful device for exposing every aspect of some topic, especially for things which might be more subjective. Being in an argument forces me to notice and justify my assumptions, looking at my beliefs with critical eyes.

    I enjoy both of these so much that I routinely hold imaginary lecture or debate sessions in my head against strawmen or long-dead historical figures. The problem is that I end up lecturing people in abstract concepts which they may or may not care about, or arguing with every single opinion someone has. I like to think I can keep it civil and interesting, but I often get the idea people just want me to shut up.

    I think I’ll try your way instead. Thanks!

  37. All living things are creatures of habit. Acquiring new and beneficial habits frequently takes time and concentrated effort. “killing the Buddha” seems to be an effective method for acquiring (or reinforcing) the reason habit. This is today’s useful insight.

  38. Always point out the things you do not know when you present the results of your test; doing so is a sign of wisdom, not ignorance.

    There should be another heuristic related to this applied to the test results of others, suggesting at least mild skepticism if they don’t do it.

  39. JonB:

    I consider that to be enfolded into the second heuristic. But yes, that is a telling sign. Anyone who hedges on the results of their tests of assumptions may not have attacked them with sufficient rigor.

  40. milieu: “… the reason for decline of buddhism as a philosophy in India isnt that well understood.”

    I’ve seen two reasons for it.

    1) Linguistic shift. The oldest Hindu scriptures were written when Sanskrit was the demotic speech in India. After some centuries, the demotic evolved into Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures, which gave Buddhism an edge in accessibility. But after more centuries, the demotic changed again, and Buddhism lost that edge. New Brahmanic texts in modernized Sanskrit and modern Hindi became available.

    2) Buddhism became institutionalized in monasteries, which became isolated from the general population. (Buddhism AFAIK lacks a “secular clergy” of “parish priests”.) Then in the 500s, India was invaded by the Ephthalite (“White”) Huns, who sacked the monasteries for their accumulated wealth. This destroyed the institutional fabric of Indian Buddhism.

  41. >someone’s been reading yudkowsky again….

    No, though that was a reasonable conjecture and not one that either Eliezer or I could be offended by. Eliezer and I have a lot of common influences, and we have critiqued each others’ work. This can make it look like we’re influencing each other a lot, but it’s actually mostly parallel development.

  42. I really meant to point to the old Always Be Closing maxim itself rather than its Glengarry Glen Ross appearance. (Baldwin’s scene does reflect some light on the phrase, though, and it’s probably the phrase’s highest-profile appearance in the wider culture.) I interpret the saying about the Buddha a bit differently to esr. As best I can guess, it is a gentle reminder that the object of the exercise is not to join the Buddha Fan Club, or to construct a self-image as any kind of Buddhist, or even just to “do Buddhism” as a thing that you do. Yet it’s easy to let these things obscure the actual objective, or even to subtly mistake them for the actual objective, and the objective cannot be attained in that case. This bears comparison to running harmlessly through the motions of selling (‘close’ being somewhat equivalent to ‘cut’ here), or mistaking the techniques of swordfighting for the purpose they’re intended to serve.

  43. It is common for monks in various disciplines to say:

    “Everything I have to say has been said many, many times before”

    .. Thus (hopefully) differentiating the teachings from the teacher. On another note, “teachings” is a bad word, especially in western culture because it signifies a spoon full of stuff that you are expected to ingest then regurgitate. Zen comes from within, it is realized then sought. Teachers, parents, wives, husbands, children, jobs, fortunes, fame and even respect are always incidental.

    The western synonym for this is “Do as I say, not as I do, but pay attention to what I just did!”, which is quite confusing, but documenting personal growth in a public forum is very useful. I really enjoy your writing.

    I am not trolling by asking this, but how would you feel if you woke up tomorrow homeless, without money while seeing your wife on TV with someone else through a store front window? Would you experience anger, or perhaps existential angst initially?

    There is Zen in principle, then there is also the real world. You, I and most others reading this are simple, humble householders who just want to be happy. Once you achieve a position in life, be it parent, elder, son, daughter or any other combination, you can’t conveniently commit yourself to “nothing”. We attach ourselves to responsibility just as we do to romance. Thinking about it, there is very little difference between the two.

    Additionally, your writing style has changed, recently. I’m not sure if you have more time to refine your writing, or perhaps you’ve reached some kind of epiphany. Whatever the case, I hope it continues :) I’m critiquing only as a reader, of course.

    I highly recommend surrounding yourself with extreme poverty for at least three years. I suspect you’ve seen it, but perhaps you don’t remember.

    That suggestion has been made many, many times before :)

  44. the difference between “I am not a Boltzmann brain” and “I am a Boltzman brain” has no observable consequences

    Yes it does. If you are a Boltzmann brain that popped into existence this instant, then nothing you experience going forward should be expected to have any correlation at all with your apparent memories. But let me discard this line of argument and try making my point differently.

    A rationalist, in order to function, must, to at least some limited extent, assume his own sanity. That is, he must assume that his own thoughts are coherent from one moment to the next — that at least some of his beliefs are not merely the product of having being led around by Descartes’ demon. You will correctly retort that the negation of this hypothesis is unfalsifiable, but without its affirmation, nothing is falsifiable. Without first believing that you are sane, you cannot formulate the framework of rationalism, because you cannot have confidence that notions such as “falsifiable” make any sense, or that they mean the same thing to you as they did a moment ago.

    So, my contention is that you do have one sacred Buddha, and that that Buddha is worth keeping sacred. This Buddha is the premise that the universe makes sense.

  45. @ Rich Rostrom

    The two reasons seem plausible. However, I don’t think the first one is entirely true. AFAIK, sanskrit was never the demotic language. Infact, it was always an evolved form of the demotic (which was called prakrit). Sankrit actually means refined, while prakrit roughly means demotic. So the Hindu scriptures (which usually were never written in the first place and only memorized, i guess) were in the hands of the well-educated priestly class (the brahmins). Buddhism arose in some ways as a rebellion against it and yes it became highly monastic and like all system of thought its success perhaps became its own weakness. Plus the later invasions by the Huns etc.

    However Buddhism in India produced tremendous philosophical and logical works. Ultimately, Sankara infact incorporated many of those elements in his philosophy but still managed to defeat them in debate, AFAIK. Infact he was even called a quasi-buddhist by his detractors. Also, atleast during his time there is no mention of any hun invasion.

    Thanks for ur comments.

  46. So what wonders has Buddhism produced in the lives of regular men? What wars has it stopped, what children has it fed, what diseases has it cured? I think the “Buddha” I will kill is Buddhism and all its foolish, cowardly introspective progeny.

  47. As with the logical positivists and their unverifiable verificationist’s creed, we have a recursive problem here. To be consistent, you also have to “kill the Buddha” of killing the Buddha. Ad infinitum.

    At some stage, you just have to accept axioms sine occisione.

  48. >I am not trolling by asking this, but how would you feel if you woke up tomorrow homeless, without money while seeing your wife on TV with someone else through a store front window? Would you experience anger, or perhaps existential angst initially?

    Anger, probably. Existential angst, no. I know who I am and what I have dedicated myself to.

    >You, I and most others reading this are simple, humble householders who just want to be happy.

    Actually, I have much larger objectives than that, and have made what I consider good progress on some of them.

    >We attach ourselves to responsibility just as we do to romance

    Correct. I’m not actually a Buddhist – I don’t have perfect detachment as my goal. I write about Zen techniques because I think they are useful tactics for calm and clarity, not because I’ve bought into the Buddhist prescription. That I have studied and rejected.

    >Additionally, your writing style has changed, recently.

    How would you describe the difference?

    >I highly recommend surrounding yourself with extreme poverty for at least three years. I suspect you’ve seen it, but perhaps you don’t remember.

    I have been surrounded with extreme poverty, living in the Third World as a child, though not directly immersed in it. This does change one’s perspective.

  49. @Dan “Oh, I thought you were making a very subtle joke. How disappointing.”

    Sorry to disappoint, just your run-off-the-mill grammar stickler. In the case, it’s because it’s especially jarring for me when I read the koan. I’m supposed to let go and find the inner meaning, but all I can do is think ‘that doesn’t make sense’. Which is probably part of lesson one in zen meditation, and would get me a scowl by the sensei.

    Hmmm. Introducing subtle mistakes in koans as a means to make them “harder” and emphasize the ‘can’t be taught with words’ point… Worth a few minutes of pondering.

  50. Robert Speirs: >>>So what wonders has Buddhism produced in the lives of regular men? What wars has it stopped, what children has it fed, what diseases has it cured? I think the “Buddha” I will kill is Buddhism and all its foolish, cowardly introspective progeny.<<<

    Considering the examples you've chosen, I have a reasonable guess as to what you would suggest for a replacement, and invite you to consider ITS overall track record as well, especially in 20th-century Europe.

  51. >So what wonders has Buddhism produced in the lives of regular men? What wars has it stopped, what children has it fed, what diseases has it cured? I think the “Buddha” I will kill is Buddhism and all its foolish, cowardly introspective progeny.

    That’s actually a pretty decent start, but I’m not sure you’re aware of that.

  52. >So, my contention is that you do have one sacred Buddha, and that that Buddha is worth keeping sacred. This Buddha is the premise that the universe makes sense.

    We’re really back at the same place I got to in my previous reply. When I posited that the universe came into being as if it had a generative history, part of that bundle was that it have causal machinery so it continues to evolve consistent with that history.

    You say the universe making sense is a sacred Buddha. I see it differently – it’s not a premise you can negate, it’s a boundary condition without which trying to reason simply doesn’t work. Game over. If you don’t assume causal coherence, you can’t play at all.

    What would it mean to say the Universe doesn’t make sense? We certainly observe causality and consistency around us – so this would have to unpack to “causality and consistency could break down at any moment”. This is the same situation I’ve described before with respect to miracles and occasionalism and leads to the same result.

  53. >I think the “Buddha” I will kill is Buddhism and all its foolish, cowardly introspective progeny.

    You have completely missed the point. You can’t kill that Buddha, since it obviously wasn’t your cherished premise to begin with.

    You’d have to do this exercise by killing whatever religious or antireligious premise you are actually carrying in your head.

  54. >That’s actually a pretty decent start, but I’m not sure you’re aware of that.

    LOL. I’m pretty sure he isn’t.

  55. >At some stage, you just have to accept axioms sine occisione.

    No, it all grounds out in predictive utility, which in turn grounds out in the survival imperative. You make this error (“have to accept axioms sine occisione”) through not having an account of what reason is for. As I have written before, we build theory because we need predictions because we want goals because we are survival machines.

    (It is reasonable for you to be confused about this, since we’re actually beyond the forward edge of Western philosophy here. The analytical school doesn’t get this yet – actually, the only academic philosopher to get this far AFAIK was Heidegger, and he was a crazy Nazi so he’s generally ignored these days. Someday I may write a book about this.)

    More specifically, when you say that to be consistent, you also have to “kill the Buddha” of killing the Buddha, you’re confusing means for ends. Killing the Buddha isn’t a goal, it’s a technique. You evaluate the technique with respect to whether it achieves the goal.

  56. esr: aren’t you begging the question there (in the proper, technical, perhaps overly-Western sense of the term ;-) ?

    What do you think of Hegel, now that we’re talking Philosophy? Aren’t you describing here something not a million miles away from his notion of dialectic progress (albeit with a forced pump)?

  57. As a survey for our understanding, after all this gratuitous Buddhacide, where have ye gory felons arrived WRT deity/s.

    When asked my religion I typically state that I am a non-practicing agnostic. ;-)

    I find ESR’s adoption of neo-paganism interesting. I don’t seem to have an itch for the ritualistic, so I have never sought to scratch it.

  58. >esr: aren’t you begging the question there (in the proper, technical, perhaps overly-Western sense of the term ;-) ?

    Sorry, I don’t understand the question. What question am I supposed to be begging?

    (Argh. Too many metalevels…)

    >What do you think of Hegel, now that we’re talking Philosophy? Aren’t you describing here something not a million miles away from his notion of dialectic progress (albeit with a forced pump)?

    No. Hegel wasn’t an empiricist at all. Beyond that I can’t say much, as I can’t make much sense out of Hegel and suspect this is because there’s not much there under the verbiage. He’s one of those philosophers who dishes out a lot of word salad that looks intellectually compelling and as though it ought to mean something profound, but seems to have little or no reference outside itself.

  59. > Sanity is the process by which you continually adjust your beliefs so they are predictively sound.

    I like this definition which implies that the Scientific Method itself is sanity.

    Though true, the definition is probably too intellectual for most people. I’ve been searching for phrases that force people to question themselves objectively:

    “The only way to be right is to admit you’re wrong.”
    “Party loyalty is un-American”.
    “I don’t believe in Santa’s workshop, Atlantis, or heaven.”
    “No imaginable force could ever stop a good God from saving a helpless child from suffering.”
    “Governments kill. Governments steal. We can do better.”
    “The only legitimate purpose of a government is to prevent other governments from forming.”

  60. it’s not a premise you can negate, it’s a boundary condition without which trying to reason simply doesn’t work. Game over. If you don’t assume causal coherence, you can’t play at all.

    I can’t make sense of this because I don’t understand the distinction you’re drawing between a premise and a boundary condition. Please describe to me your model of what reasoning consists of, and define “premise” and “boundary condition” in terms of that model.

  61. ESR “He’s one of those philosophers who dishes out a lot of word salad that looks intellectually compelling and as though it ought to mean something profound, but seems to have little or no reference outside itself.”

    Heh. Of course, people like Derrida would claim that this is the tragedy (and the joy) of all language. But that really would be a meta-level too high.

    That said: although I don’t usually subscribe to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or its relatives, Hegel really does make more sense in German. Whether it is a sense for which it’s worth learning German ist umstritten.

  62. >I can’t make sense of this because I don’t understand the distinction you’re drawing between a premise and a boundary condition. Please describe to me your model of what reasoning consists of, and define “premise” and “boundary condition” in terms of that model.

    Most generally, reasoning is what you do to generate testable predictions about observables from other observables. In order for reasoning to work, there have to be causal relationships among observables that are within the computational capacity of your mind to model. More strictly, observables have to exhibit causal regularity – that is, like causes produce like effects.

    Theories are ways of compressing lots of observations and intermediate predictions into formulas that allow us to make final predictions. Some kinds of reasoning – theoretical reasoning – consist of rearranging and checking your theories. While this kind of reasoning is still ultimately motivated and justified by prediction of observables, it may be abstracted enough that the connection to observables is no longer obvious. The most obvious example in this category is formal reasoning in pure mathematics.

    A “premise” is an assumption or input into a theory. In formal mathematical reasoning, a premise is an axiom. In kinds of reasoning closer to observables, a premise may be a truth claim about observables that is outside the scope of the theory you are considering – so it is testable, but not testable within the theory of which it is a premise.

    In formal mathematical reasoning, it is often possible to negate a single premise of an axiomatic system and arrive at a different but still internally consistent theory. For example, set theory can be done with either the Continuum Hypothesis or its negation and will still be consistent, generating different predictions only for some recondite questions about infinite sets.

    In more empirical reasoning, it is also possible to negate or modify the premises of a theory and yield a sheaf of theories which predict different observables. For example, we could assume different values of G in Newton’s Law and derive different expectations about planetary orbits. Only one value would be true, e.g., predictive of actual observables, but the point is that premises can mutate without making reasoning impossible.

    OK, now let’s consider “the universe doesn’t make sense”. The only way I can unpack this is as an assertion that either (a) the universe does not have causal regularity, or (b) it has causal regularity but modeling the regularity is beyond the computational capacity of human minds. In either of those cases you can’t reason at all, even in the most general sense of “reason”.

    This is why I described “the universe makes sense” as a boundary condition rather than a premise. It’s a boundary condition of reasoning, not a premise you can negate and still be in a possible world where reason is applicable.

  63. A great deal of my reputation with my co-workers is derived from my willingness to kill the Buddha. They come to me asking advice on how to resolve a particular problem, and I often have to get them to separate what they know from direct observation from the conclusions they’ve reached from those observations, and the observations and conclusions relayed by others.

    I often refer to the scene in the original Bad News Bears in which the coach writes on the chalkboard “ASSUME”, then divides the word into three parts “ASS|U|ME”, while saying “when you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.” It’s a handy, colorful rubric.

    You’d be surprised how often those assumptions turn out to be false.

  64. >A great deal of my reputation with my co-workers is derived from my willingness to kill the Buddha. They come to me asking advice on how to resolve a particular problem

    Your account is wrong in at least one important way. You cannot kill someone else’s Buddha; the most you can achieve to to make it visible to them so they can kill it themselves.

    I’m not saying this to sound mystical or profound, although I concede that is a likely side-effect :-). It’s very valuable to expose the hidden premises in your co-workers’ thinking, but until they actually negate the incorrect premises in their own minds, enlightenment is not achieved.

  65. @ Monster

    >They come to me asking advice on how to resolve a particular problem, and I often have to get them to separate what they know from direct observation from the conclusions they’ve reached from those observations, and the observations and conclusions relayed by others.

    In my line of work it usually takes the following form:

    I’m having this problem.

    Why are you doing that?

    Because of X.

    Disregard X…

    …..Oh!

    You start them out flying in some direction and come around periodically to save them from their death spirals. I’ve tried to train myself to fly on instruments as much as possible, but it still helps to have somebody to bounce things off of. I find myself in a spiral from time to time.

  66. Certainly, questioning one’s assumptions is a good thing to do…when one has time to do it. During the rest of our lives, we need a framework of ‘rules’ or ‘morals’ or ‘laws’ to guide us in choosing our actions in response to different situations.

    An example would be a policeman responding to a call. He’s been given all sorts of examples in training, by his sergeant at roll calls, and by other cops. When he gets to the scene, he needs to “pull one out” and use it. There’s no time for complicated analysis. It’s the difference between a quick table lookup and some elaborate algorithmic process. You can’t kill the Buddha and the perp at the same time. Those of you who carry might run into this very problem.

    Another example would be things that we are taught by our elders. They attempt to pass on things that have proved useful to them, so that we don’t have to waste our lives endlessly reconfirming things. My father told me, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” This simple bit of advice has saved me hours and hours that I’ve seen other people waste on the subject.

    I would tell people to not question their basic assumptions ordinarily, but BE READY to do so when confronted with some situation that demands it. The hard part is learning to recognize when such a situation has come up.

  67. Aaron Davies: On reflection, I’ve decided you were onto something. I didn’t write the OP because of anything I read in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s stuff, but I think he did influence it on a different level. That the form of the essay was possible – that philosophical writing about the tactics of rationality can be packaged as a hortatory essay in blog-post length – is probably something I learned from him.

    Of course, in exploring this form he has been refining precedents of which he and I are both aware.

  68. You cannot kill someone else’s Buddha;

    Well, I kill my own Buddhas all the time, and I generally succeed in getting them to kill theirs when an opportunity arises.

    They state a conclusion; I ask them “what makes you think that?” and we’re off to the races.

  69. More strictly, observables have to exhibit causal regularity – that is, like causes produce like effects.

    I think you need to weaken this definition in one of two ways in order to allow for quantum indeterminacy. Either allow causes to be unobservable (allowing for many-worlds or hidden-variable interpretations of QM), or say that like causes produce independent random samples of a distribution of effects (allowing for Copenhagen-style interpretations).

    The model of reasoning you’ve described doesn’t address how a reasoner can make allowances for his own fallibility. The obvious way to work this into the model is to assign a confidence level to each axiom and derived proposition, with confidence gradually diminishing through extended chains of deduction. Under this model, a reasoner who believes himself to be insane (which I think you can interpret as being a strictly weaker proposition than “the universe doesn’t make sense”) is one whose confidence diminishes completely after a single inference step. Such a reasoner is still able to go through the motions of making inferences even though he will never acquire any new beliefs as a result. He would be engaging in a degenerate kind of reasoning, but I think it still deserves to be called reasoning.

  70. Shenpen did say that he applied the idea of unquestionable rules to himself– it’s in his second-to-last paragraph.

    More generally, the problem of destructive impulsiveness is more serious for some people than others. If you problem is not getting around to paperwork and losing some non-crucial money as a result, it’s in a different category, practically speaking, from liking to get drunk and having no inhibitions about driving in that state.

    Someone in the latter category might need solid rules to stay alive long enough to work on acquiring some wisdom.

  71. I would reject the entire discussion since it seems to be based on the idea that there is some central truth and “I/we” know it but you don’t. If you truely believe there is some value to anything “Zen” or “Buddhist” then put it out there in 125 words or less and lets discuss it. My experience is that even difficult concepts can be explained to lay people in simple terms IF the person explaining it understands it. AND that all complicated discussions that require endless additional verbage to explain or prove are in fact nothing more then frauds that cannot stand the light of day and must be shrouded in code words, mystery and priest-like double-speak.

  72. >I think you need to weaken this definition in one of two ways in order to allow for quantum indeterminacy.

    Yeah, this is all technical stuff involving the definition of “like” (causes and effects). If we extend the model of reasoning so confirmation is probabilistic rather than boolean-valued, there are no problems of principle here – you just end up in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s world, where Bayes’s Theorem is king.

    >The model of reasoning you’ve described doesn’t address how a reasoner can make allowances for his own fallibility.

    True. Your solution is sound in principle, I think.

  73. >If you truely believe there is some value to anything “Zen” or “Buddhist” then put it out there in 125 words or less and lets discuss it.

    What, the 563 words in the original post was too long for you?

    There are no secrets here, no mysteries, no elites.

  74. Actually, thinking about it, what you describe is very similar to Derrida’s “deconstruction” in its original form. And again, apologies for mentioning him again ;-)

  75. Dear Eric, your writing is clear and complete. I agree with the sanity process you explain: very simple to understand. I just wonder how much fuzzle and noise is made because you used such entangled language. Maybe it sounded mystic to somebody…

    Thanks for posting! Hope you can read in Spanish… you can join us someday as reader in Loquaris.

    Greetings,
    Celita Palacios

  76. ESR, how do you feel about the type of beliefs where the belief itself influences the truth-value? Ie if you believe you are Casanova, you will be a better ladies’ man than if you believe that you are the lamest man in the world. Are you against the type of mind hacking offered by eg rituals, NLP, personal development, affirmations, etc? Clarification is needed here! :)

  77. Correct. I’m not actually a Buddhist – I don’t have perfect detachment as my goal. I write about Zen techniques because I think they are useful tactics for calm and clarity, not because I’ve bought into the Buddhist prescription. That I have studied and rejected.

    Elaborate on this plz.

    ESR says: Um, not right now. Maybe I’ll post about Buddhism sometime.

  78. @esr
    >Hegel wasn’t an empiricist at all. Beyond that I can’t say much, as I can’t make much sense out of Hegel and suspect this is because there’s not much there under the verbiage. He’s one of those philosophers who dishes out a lot of word salad that looks intellectually compelling and as though it ought to mean something profound, but seems to have little or no reference outside itself.

    Slightly OT, but thank you. I have gotten the same sense from Hegel every time I have tried to read it, but lacked the words to describe my distaste. I was afraid maybe I had missed something, but I’m relieved others have come to similar conclusions.

  79. >I have gotten the same sense from Hegel every time I have tried to read it, but lacked the words to describe my distaste. I was afraid maybe I had missed something, but I’m relieved others have come to similar conclusions.

    This isn’t only a Hegelian problem :-). Sadly, most pre-analytic philosophy is like this.

  80. Fight for the sake of fighting without considering

    happiness or distress
    loss or gain
    victory or defeat

    and you shall never incur sin.

    Bhagavad Gita 2.38

  81. “Sanity is the process by which you continually adjust your beliefs so they are predictively sound.”

    I *really* like that. I hope you don’t mind if I spread that.

  82. >ESR, how do you feel about the type of beliefs where the belief itself influences the truth-value? Ie if you believe you are Casanova, you will be a better ladies’ man than if you believe that you are the lamest man in the world. Are you against the type of mind hacking offered by eg rituals, NLP, personal development, affirmations, etc? Clarification is needed here! :)

    ESR has referred in the past to rituals/spells/whatever they’re actually called in Wicca that allow him, for instance, to effect real improvement in the condition of a sprained joint (someone else’s), and hypothesized that mind-hacking is involved. I’m not sure how this is related to other, more self-directed forms of mind-hacking.

  83. I like this essay a lot. This is actually something we teach to pre-initiates in the Georgian Tradition. The idea is that you’re supposed to go through this with all of your idees belief, values, ssumptions and attitudes about everything you think about. Politics, religion, sex, personal relationships, business relationships, work, life in general, and so forth. You’re supposed to throw out any ideas that conflict with observation and sound reasoning. Pat Patterson referred to this process in his original tapes as “unbrainwashing” and he specifically emphasized that you should do this not just once, but that it’s a continuing process that you constantly do your whole life.

    I personally wish more people would do this; there exists a lot of ignorance out there due to people simply believing what they are told — especially by someone with an agenda.

  84. >Additionally, your writing style has changed, recently.
    How would you describe the difference?

    It is extremely difficult to articulate why one is more captivated and entertained by reading one thing vs. the other, as any explanation is of course entirely subjective. When writing my comment, I thought perhaps you had more time to write. In fact, I fully expected you to say “Oh, yeah, I have more time to write lately.”

    I can only say that as a wordsmith, you have become more clever and entertaining. It seems like you are having more fun than usual while writing. I’ve been reading your blog and occasionally commenting for over a year, and I have enjoyed your essays during that time. Lately, I’ve enjoyed them more.

    I don’t mean to be incoherent, but your question is rather difficult to answer :) Why do I love red snapper grilled in a salt cast after being smothered with lemon and habanero peppers? I don’t know, I just like it :)

  85. Gone with the Wind: My experience is that even difficult concepts can be explained to lay people in simple terms IF the person explaining it understands it. AND that all complicated discussions that require endless additional verbage to explain or prove are in fact nothing more then frauds that cannot stand the light of day and must be shrouded in code words, mystery and priest-like double-speak.

    My experience is that some things are very difficult to explain to people who already have a strong preconception. Or, more exactly, it’s possible to put together a very nice, concise explanation, but people are unlikely to assimilate it.

    For example, take Alexander Technique– it’s a method of improving coordination by showing people how not to interfere with their kinesthetic sense.

    It’s amazing how hard it is to get this across. Many people reflexively say that they have no coordination. More people assume it has something to do with posture.

    And I’ve done something I thought was Alexander Technique for years, seeking contextless perfection and making my coordination worse rather than better. My teachers were reasonably competent, but there were things they were saying that I just wasn’t hearing.

    *****

    esr:I’m not actually a Buddhist – I don’t have perfect detachment as my goal. I write about Zen techniques because I think they are useful tactics for calm and clarity, not because I’ve bought into the Buddhist prescription. That I have studied and rejected.

    I think Buddhism is the result of a very serious effort to solve a particular problem– that of suffering. Buddha didn’t have anything in particular that he wanted to do, so he wasn’t working on how to act well.

    The tremendous influence of Buddhism and the value which has come out of it are indicators of both how important it is to really dig into problems and how rarely anyone does so.

  86. I don’t mean to be incoherent, but your question is rather difficult to answer :) Why do I love red snapper grilled in a salt cast after being smothered with lemon and habanero peppers? I don’t know, I just like it :)

    I was just thinking about this. You can be more specific, like “I like the combination of saltiness and piquancy, and the acidity of the lemon juice brings the fish flavor to the foreground” or “I like how the fish meat is solidified by cooking it in lemon juice”, but at the end it always comes down to “I like X. Why? Because.”

  87. Sorry, forgot to quote Tim in my last post.

    Eric, there are a number of things “wrong” with your wp setup, if I may point them out here:
    - Inside a post, there’s no clicky to get to the homepage, or anything but the immediate adjacent posts. Usually the blog header is a link to the homepage. Yes, I could and I do use Ctrl-L to retype, or Backspace, but it’s something one expects from a blog.
    - Also, a “Go to the top” link. Sure, there’s the Home button, but it doesn’t work inside forms.
    - you could enable ‘pretty urls’ that display post title like “esr.ibiblio.org/kill-the-buddha/” if your wp allows
    - I think for the level of conversation in this blog, http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/quote-comments/ or something like it could be very useful. I remember the failed test of a comments plugin you did previously, but this might be a bit easier on the processing. Just don’t install it just before you leave for the weekend :)

  88. >Eric, there are a number of things “wrong” with your wp setup, if I may point them out here:

    Not bad ideas, but I have no idea how to accomplish any but the last. I’ll look into upgrading.

  89. @Adriano:

    I was just thinking about this. You can be more specific, like “I like the combination of saltiness and piquancy, and the acidity of the lemon juice brings the fish flavor to the foreground” or “I like how the fish meat is solidified by cooking it in lemon juice”, but at the end it always comes down to “I like X. Why? Because.”

    Actually, I think that there are real, scientific reasons why people tend to like certain foods, though specifically why Tim especially likes red snapper grilled in a salt cast after being smothered in lemon and habanero peppers (which sounds good to me, too) may be difficult to identify. For example, people tend to crave salt partly because it is needed by the body, since it contains copious amounts of the electrolyte sodium, which adequate levels are required for central nervous system functionality. But then again, Tim may like red snapper grilled in a salt cast, while he may eschew some other salty meats. At the end of the day, however, people tend to just shrug and say that there’s no accounting for taste.

    Fortunately, in my case, copious amounts of Lutjanus gibbous (humpback red snapper) are caught everyday in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, hence fresh supplies are readily available at my local fish market.

  90. Tim may like red snapper grilled in a salt cast, while he may eschew some other salty meats. At the end of the day, however, people tend to just shrug and say that there’s no accounting for taste.

    If done correctly and with quality coarse salt, the fish does not come out salty. The meat is very light with a nice citrus / spicy finish. The salt cast ensures that the fish is cooked evenly and dehydrates the skin. When opened and the skin peeled away, you see the natural fish oils on the surface of the meat. Believe it or not, many people add salt to taste. Except for the lemon / pepper, the meat is quite bland.

    Trout, if cooked in a similar manner comes out with much more subtle flavor instead of the usual strong fish taste.

    If done incorrectly, the worst that you end up with is the taste of pickled fish, which is also quite delicious. It’s an interesting technique to try. You can use a conventional oven, but best results are obtained using a very hot grill.

    I began being curious about the science of taste when I realized that my daughter inherited my love of very spicy food. I always attributed that to an endorphin rush, but that doesn’t explain the chain of events where a toddler first decided that atomic chili smells good. I was amazed to see her finish it. When I cook chili, the kitchen is often uninhabitable. Most other children her age would have refused to taste it, just on the grounds of the very strong aroma.

  91. @Tim

    If done correctly and with quality coarse salt, the fish does not come out salty. The meat is very light with a nice citrus / spicy finish. The salt cast ensures that the fish is cooked evenly and dehydrates the skin. When opened and the skin peeled away, you see the natural fish oils on the surface of the meat. Believe it or not, many people add salt to taste. Except for the lemon / pepper, the meat is quite bland.

    My wife has prepared other kinds of fish cooked in this way, and indeed they were not very salty.

    As for the spicy food, I’ve had extensive training: years ago, I couldn’t finish a bowl of spaghetti with chili pepper powder; today, I can eat a rocoto pepper “marinade” I make myself without flinching much. Wasabi and horseradish mustards were involved in the progression. I wonder if it’s the same for most people?

  92. Back on topic, this has been a very useful thread, and it does dovetail nicely with Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality which has also been a wonderful boon to me.

    Yours,
    Tom

  93. Thank you, this is a nice set of rules to deal with one’s ideas.

    So… You don’t let them rot and you swing at them (to kill them)? Train them in your mind with rejection?
    (Isolating your own memes(ideas) and shrinking the pool(memory, processing capacity)? or just releasing more vicious memes(old & new ideas, ) to eat them? :) )

  94. @boril

    Now *there’s* an interesting pair of concepts to play with… a person’s knowledge/belief system as a competitive ecosystem of memes, vs. the more traditional cognitive psych-type view as something more in the nature of an architectural structure (schema) that each of us “builds” internally over time.

  95. @Matt: I wouldn’t say that those are necessarily competing ideas. Memes are just whatever is copied from one person to the next, whether that be songs, stories, habits, etc.: the concept revolves around the idea that these are passed by imitation. That these concepts replicate with variation is rather like genes — hence the term “meme.”

    Cognitive psych definitely recognizes that a significant portion of a person’s knowledge/belief system arises from cultural influences.

    So I don’t think those ideas are necessarily opposing or competing at all.

  96. @Matt
    >ecosystem of memes, vs. psych-type

    Structures of ideas over a wild plain? :)
    Even then, one usually has to dismantle old buildings in order build a new one (there was a saying about this, I don’t remember it right now)
    Evolutionary speaking, it could be said that those old buildings has “survived” for so long because they are either beautiful (we like them, they “exploit” that) or they are useful & sturdy (we need them). In a sense, the structures are like “living beings” on the “open plains” (cities). We the humans are the evolutionary process that “selects” which buildings would survive in the future.

    Now…. one has just to shift his/hers mind from the literalities and switch the context from “architectures in a city” to his own mind, “buildings” as ideas and see the same process just as it is in an ecosystem :-/

    @Morgan
    >Memes are just whatever is copied from one person to the next

    Yeah, copying with variation though as ideas are much more unstable than genes
    Splicing (and?) & splitting (or?) is permitted on ideas and the results are undefined/unknown from time to time.
    You never know what mutant may come out…

  97. “There’s a reason Zen shifted to a conceptualist position after the Sixth Patriarch; subjectivism doesn’t work. It doesn’t predict the way observed reality behaves, which is that there’s stuff out there that has prior causal power over mind even if we never have access to it that’s unmediated by our nervous systems.”

    Given that the purpose of the whole thing is changing the mind and not changing external reality, what counts is how well it predicts the functioning of the mind and the methods used to influence it and not external reality.

    BTW seeing the observer and the thing observed as different aspects of the same mind is pretty much a part of Zen too, this is not where the difference lies, f.e. there is the Zen story two monks looking at a flag and debating whether it is the flag that moves or the wind that moves and a third one tells them that it is the mind that moves.

    The difference rather lies in importance or priority one assigns to getting rid of fixed ideas and getting rid of disturbing emotions (passions, vices, whatevers). Fixed ideas are the ultimate reasons of disturbing emotions but treating the symptom is very often more urgent than removing the cause which is a much longer process and often one does not have time to wait for that. And the reason of this difference is simply explained by a temptation-free monastic lifestyle vs. living in the storm of lay, worldly life.

    One typical technique is for example treating jealousy, envy, anger and even fear/anxiety/stress (because fear is often suppressed anger) by wishing as much happiness to the person we are jealous / envious / angry / afraid of as possible. I tried it, it is difficult, but works fast. As in, minutes, hours, days. Realizing the untruth of the underlying fixed ideas AND getting this intellectual realization down from head into the heart takes much longer, as in, decades.

    Finally, I’m not saying fixed ideas are necessary for suppressing disturbing emotions / passions / vices, I am saying removing stuff in the wrong order can be dangerous, if I for example remove the fixed idea that there are some objective rules to morality but do not remove those fixed ideas that make me greedy or hateful can easily turn me into a criminal. As long as one has these fixed ideas and these passions, having some extra fixed ideas such as there are objective rules to morality can be useful, even something completely ridiculous fixed idea like the existence of an omnipotent god can be useful on this level. If one does the right thing, and removes the kinds of fixed ideas first that tend to cause the most dangerous passions, then of course reliance on other fixed ideas is not necessary. But very few attempt it and even fewer do it successfuly.

  98. On Hegel: 70% of the problem is that he wrote bullshit and 30% is translation problems. Take the title of his most famous work, for example: usually translated as The Phenomenology of Spirit, should be translated as The Phenomenology of Spirit, Soul, Reason, Mind, Psyche And Pretty Much Anything Happening In Your Head – der Geist is an umbrella term for a Cartesian ghost in the machine, it encompasses any activity that does not involve motoric movements, from mathemathics to religious faith.

  99. The only philosphers you can really trust are those like Socrates (not Plato!) and Diogenes because their only real claim was that people don’t know jack.

    Yours,
    Tom

  100. it encompasses any activity that does not involve motoric movements, from mathemathics to religious faith.

    In my case, mathematics always involves motoric movements. :-P

    Python 2.6.4 (r264:75706, Dec 7 2009, 18:43:55)
    [GCC 4.4.1] on linux2
    Type “help”, “copyright”, “credits” or “license” for more information.
    >>> 2+4
    6

  101. Does religion predate the soul, or the other way around – that’s what I’d like to know.

  102. I seriously don’t get the idea of killing Buddha. Is it to murder someone in your mind? Scary.
    I’m probably not knowledgeable in this area but I found mediating a very useful application to calm down your mind during stress. =D

  103. Pingback: ?? ? ???????? » Blog Archive » ?????? ?????

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