Beliefs: What They Are (and Aren’t)

As I mentioned before, the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast is a masterclass on belief change. So before we dig into it, some useful ideas about beliefs themselves.

Beliefs, concisely stated, are generalizations of our experiences that save us mental processing time. They also serve a behavioral purpose in addition to serving as a processing shortcut.

Beliefs can be considered feed-forward mechanisms. A feedback mechanism tells you what results you have received, usually so you can make adjustments. A feed-forward mechanism is you communicating what you want to happen so things can adjust to you. More on this in a moment.

Remember, BELIEFS ARE NOT REAL. They delete, distort, and generalize information we take in. They are essentially hallucinations created to approximate the lessons from prior experiences. Consider this: are your most strongly held beliefs the ones that you had the most rational support for, or the ones that had the strongest emotions tied into them?

Also, BELIEFS DO EXIST. Beliefs filter out that which contradicts our beliefs so effectively that they define the realities that we experience. When faced with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, the mind tends to reject the new information rather than update the beliefs. This can be unsettling until we learn to use it to our advantage.

So how can one evaluate beliefs? Most of the world thinks beliefs are true or false. They engage in endless debates talking past each other, occasionally stumbling into a shared reality. Beliefs are NOT true or false; that dimension doesn’t apply to beliefs. Some say beliefs are accurate or inaccurate, but that’s not quite right either. A very good way to evaluate beliefs is if they are USEFUL or not.

So how can we use what we now know about beliefs to our advantage? As we can discover, when you set up your beliefs in ways that support you, not only will your experience change, but your reality will change as well. This means removing limiting or destructive beliefs and adopting helpful and empowering ones. For example, does a belief make you more resourceful, resilient, etc. or the opposite?

Be somewhat careful when adjusting beliefs. Only remove limiting beliefs, not supportive, expansive ones, until you know what you are doing, because removing beliefs without providing proper support can cause unpredictable effects. Confusion and anger are common.

In general, if you aren’t highly trained or experienced enough:

  • leave other people’s religious and sexuality-related beliefs alone. Feel free to alter your own.
  • Don’t alter other people’s identity beliefs, but you can do a lot of good addressing beliefs of capability
  • Political beliefs are generally fair game.
  • Ethics and morality are fair game.

Finally for now: if beliefs determine one’s reality, and all beliefs are in effect hallucinations, how can one find accuracy and avoid being in a bubble built by a set of beliefs that filter out opposing experiences? Great question! When you can try on different belief sets temporarily to evaluate a situation, and take them off at will, you can develop a powerful set of perspectives that you can use to “triangulate” a pretty good idea of what’s really going on. I counted one time and I have at least 17 different “filters” I can evaluate things from. One way to do this is in my FAQ post.

Next up: the first 20 minutes of the Scott Adams – San Harris debate, with my notes of the “level 1” techniques employed.

Not Ok, Twitter: End Your Sneaky Shadowbanning Tactics

After following Scott Adams for several months on Twitter, I noticed two days ago his posts suddenly stopped showing up in my timeline. I changed no settings. I altered nothing in my notifications. I follow only 28 accounts so there is no chance they got lost. Just, suddenly, no posts from Adams.

I know Adams is a tireless persuader. So, I went to his timeline and I saw over 200 posts by him *that day alone*.

How many were in my Twitter timeline? NONE.

Remember when the California electric companies artificially limited electricity generation and then price gouged citizens while cutting off their electricity sporadically? How did that feel?

You see, if a Twitter engineer with an SJW chip on his shoulder wanted to harm his political opposition, he could tweak the algorithm to perform “rolling blackouts” of the followers of certain key twitter accounts. It would come and go randomly, so it would be difficult to replicate, and so remain hidden from @twittersupport. But it would materially harm the key accounts’ messaging by preventing a certain percentage of their followers at any given time from seeing their posts – thus preventing followers from responding or liking posts to show support.

NOT ok, Twitter. And when it happens, we will keep telling you and those affected by it until it stops.

I don’t care if Twitter is shadowbanning on accident due to software bugs or if someone is doing this on purpose, because either way the resulting effect is the silencing of rightful speech. Tech companies are already under fire for SJW-friendly censorship and groupthink. But investors won’t care about excuses should Twitter’s brand take on an ominous neo-Orwellian shadow and make it even harder for them to make a profit.

Fix the issue, Twitter.

Parsing Persuasion in the Sam Harris – Scott Adams Podcast: Intro

In early 2017 noted rationalist, atheist, and Trump hater Sam Harris invited Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and persuasionist extraordinaire, to come on his show and debate about Donald Trump. Adams accepted and on July 18, 2017 they engaged in a two-hour discussion. In the resulting twitter discussions Harris supporters generally seemed angry; Adams supporters seemed to have had a good bit of fun calling out the Harris supporters for cognitive dissonance.

This was a great event for students of persuasion for a number of reasons. First, it provided a beautiful contrast between super smart, super rational, scientist Sam Harris (and his followers of similar brains and bent) with super smart, super persuasive Scott Adams and his followers. Second, it provided us with a master class in belief change work, if we are willing to dig into it and work out the techniques.

Because Harris debated Adams, but Adams didn’t debate Harris. Adams used the debate as a vehicle to destroy anti-Trump beliefs, as conveniently presented by Harris, for a large audience of listeners.

So let’s dig into what went on. I’ll parse out some of the techniques used and we can learn some useful stuff.

Some notes before we begin:

  • I’ll be posting the transcript in sections, along with notes on the persuasion and structure, as I finish them
  • I will only be publicly parsing out what I will call Level 1 techniques. Even so, you might be surprised at how deep the crafting goes into persuasion, even in live conversations
  • If you are on twitter, send out thanks to @rolypolyistaken for writing out the transcript for the first section
  • It will help greatly to be familiar with some of Adams’ persuasion reading list, particularly Cialdini
  • The next post will be on beliefs and how to use the new information we will be learning. After that I’ll post the first section of the transcript with notes