Re: Zen and the Singularity

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Jul 01 2002 - 22:22:31 MDT

Gordon Worley wrote:
> Buddhism has it's problems as a religion and, like all religions,
> tends to get in the way of getting the real benefits of the
> teachings. I think if people just listened to the teachings of Jesus
> they'd be a lot better off, but it's not so simple because of
> religion, which sets about to create all sorts of things around what
> he said and ends up twisting it around so much that you give up and
> just decide to act like a human (and, as the /Hitchhiker's Guide/
> points out, all Jesus ever did was try to get people to be nice to
> each other and they killed him for it).

When I was very *very* young, I think around age six or seven, I read a
children's book whose name I have long since forgotten. I do remember
one thought from that book, though, and it has served me in good stead
my whole life:

"There's a difference between believing in ghosts and half-believing.
Some people say they don't believe in ghosts, but they still jump at odd
noises and feel uncomfortable when ghost stories are told."

At the age of thirteen or thereabouts I read "Snow Crash" by Neal
Stephenson, during which Stephenson mentions in passing the debate about
which authors wrote the book of Deuteronomy, which was written somewhat
later than the other four chapters of the Old Testament. And when I
read this it came as a very slight shock, because I realized that up
until that point I'd been thinking, somewhere in the back of my mind,
"Moses made the whole thing up on Mount Sinai", rather than "This is a
perfectly ordinary document produced in a perfectly ordinary way." And
when that one last shock had passed, the separation was complete.

If you're thinking "Jesus was just a good man", without realizing how
religiously brainwashed this sounds to someone who was raised without
any mention of Jesus at all, it sounds to me like you still
half-believe. I suggest you check out some reputable material on the
actual authors and derivation of the New Testament.

If you're going to quote someone, don't quote a religious figure, even
with a disclaimer. Find a modern secular humanist who has said roughly
the same thing; s/he will undoubtedly have said it far more clearly and
with fewer millennia-old prejudices mixed in.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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