The example rule
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15-05-2011, 02:49 PM
The example rule
When you are an out of the closet atheist, you often get the question
"What would you say when you die and stand eye to eye with God?"
Usually it is said with a smug look on the face.

The first time they ask you, it usually catches you of guard. It is only later that you find good reasoned answers to this suggestive question. What you will answer depends on your mood. In my case I answered "I'd say: thanks for the choices had". Then I asked him what he would say if he comes eye to eye with Allah. But getting responses to this question is not the topic.

The topic is:
Why is it, that this question makes you shuffle your feet with unease when you hear it for the first time?

The human mind works at two speeds. There is system one and system two.

System one is the emotional part. It is fast, and strong. It evolved during the hundreds of thousands of years we roamed the savanna in search of prey. Basically, system one is your "inner caveman" Jumping up and down when he smells food, hears strange noises at night or sees good looking male/female body parts.
System two is slower but more rational, It is the part of the brain that can handle language, and math beyond the natural numbers. It is slow and does not start automatically. Although capable of the greatest things it needs to be activated on demand. Basically it is your inner teenager: Capable of great things if he would only get off his I-pod and PSP. (with my excuses for the over-generalization on teenagers. Tongue and cavemen for that matter)

The caveman can't handle concepts like "chance heuristics" or "risk analysis".
He works with simpler rules. One of them is the example rule: the easier it is to find an example of something, the bigger the chance it will happen. While reading this, your inner teenager wakes up, and says "this is, you know, bullshit". But he/she won't when this is happening in the outside world.

When you are debating a theist, your "teenager" is mostly doing the talking, while the caveman is held back by him to prevent the debate to become too emotional or to avoid logical traps.
You can easily see that in asking the "what would you say..." question, the caveman jumps up since he could easily imagine himself standing in front of the ol bearded guy. Suddenly, the situation becomes more plausible. The caveman's reaction catches the teenager off guard and stops his reasoning giving the poor scared caveman free play for a few seconds.

(sources: Risk - The science and politics of fear. Dan Gardner, quoting several different scientific studies. Highly recommended read!!)


Agnostic atheist
Secular humanist
Emotional rationalist
Disclaimer: Don’t mix the personal opinion above with the absolute and objective truth. Remember to think for yourself. Thank you.
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