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In the Beginning Was the Blog

How does one go from a practicing Mormon to where I am now– which is something like aspiring effective altruist, rationalist-ish, secular, figuring-out-the-world-er, science-lover, nerd-who-thinks-AI-will-probably-destroy-the-world (but hopes it doesn’t—oh no, wishful thinking bias at it again, bad! Bad! well no, not bad per se, more of a useful tool to recognize the–

To be fair, my middle school science fair basically predicted this.

For the science fair, I built a little robot that moved forward on wheels and could sense whether an object was in front of it. After sensing something in front of it, the robot would stop so as to not run into the object. I ran trials and compared various animate vs. inanimate targets, starting distances, speeds, and then measured stopping distances from the targets, controlling for mass/volume/density. I recall that the robot was better at sensing inanimate objects (though perhaps recall bias is at play here) and movement was perhaps what I theorized to be the confounder. Though I attempted to reduce the amount of movement of animate targets, they were not as good as inanimate objects at staying still, and it was likely more difficult for the moving robot to detect a moving target.

I won my school science fair, which meant I was eligible for the regional science fair. I was elated, until the Sunday before the science fair when I was at church. Weekly, there were activities for the youth on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, with separate activities for the girls and the boys. After church ended, I informed one of my church leaders for the girls that I would not be attending the activity that week because the science fair was being held the same night. I hoped that she would be excited, but her face quickly dropped in disapproval.

“Hayley, it is very important that you attend the activity this week. We are going to be teaching you homemaking skills,” she said, expecting my answer to change.

“Well, right, but this is the regional science fair. I worked really hard to get here, and I’ll definitely be at future activities,” I said, trying to reassure her.

“But the most important thing is being a mother, and you need to be at activities like this to learn the skills you’ll need for that. You need to get your priorities straight. It’s like what Elder Oaks said, ‘there’s good, better, and best,’ and while going to the science fair is maybe a good thing, the best thing is going to your church activities and preparing to be a mom,” she said overly sweetly, but actually scolding me.

My face seared red, my throat closed, and I held back tears as I mustered a weak, “okay, well I need to go now,” and left the room, a few tears escaping once I was out of sight.

Keep in mind, I was 12, going on 13 years old. Though I have to remind myself, to be fair to that church leader, it is not unheard of in Mormonism to be 18 years old and married with a kid on the way. I am 28 and unmarried and without kids, so maybe the church leader was right in the alternate universe where I stayed Mormon and got married and had kids when I was younger.

Once I was settled at home, my parents did their weekly Sunday ritual of asking each of the kids about church and what we learned as we sat around the dinner table. I dreaded my turn, as I knew I had to recount what had occurred with the church leader. I think a part of me was scared that my parents would agree and that I would have to sacrifice competing at the science fair to do the “right thing.”

“Hayley, how was church today?”

I took a moment to figure out how to proceed, and then decided to leave the science fair discussion for the end.

“Well, choir practice was pretty good…” Yes, church choir was a safe topic. My friend’s dad was the choir conductor, so while most of the people in the choir were on the senior side of things, we were the young standouts there in support.

“...and Sunday school was fine too,” I said, then summarizing whatever I had learned that day. My parents nodded along, listening. “But, uh, then something happened after church,” I said, feeling my face flushing red. Looking down at the table to avoid eye contact, I recounted what occurred earlier with the church leader.

“...So, she thinks I should go to the activity instead of the science fair,” I said shakily and disheartened.

My parents reassured me that they thought I should go to the science fair. “It’s just one night,” one of them said. “And you’ve put a lot of effort in,” said the other. “We support you going to the science fair,” they concluded.

I was relieved. I knew that I might be shamed the next Sunday, but the science fair was the only thing that mattered in the now. Next Sunday was future Hayley’s problem.

The science fair came and the science fair went. I did not move on to the next level, but the science fair was a valuable exercise in explaining hypotheses, methodologies, and findings, and I was able to just geek out and have fun.

The next Sunday came and went. There was disappointment expressed in response to me not attending the activity, but I shrugged it off and moved forward.

Now at 28 years old, I stand by my decision and when I do the “good, better, best” analysis for that Wednesday, attending the science fair was the best choice. Though perhaps there is some outcome bias shining through, as I am no longer Mormon, and I’m into science and research, and I’m not a mother, so…

Maybe if I have kids at some point, a time will come where I will throw my fists into the sky, cursing, “WHY, oh, WHY did I not attend that preparing-to-be-a-mom activity when I was 12?” Time will tell (though then, wouldn’t that also be outcome bias? A sticky bias, indeed).

You may be asking, “So Hayley, you mean to say that competing in the science fair when you were 12 made you leave the Mormon church?”

Well, no, but looking at the decision making I’ve had to do-

“Aha! Decision theory!”

Slow down! Well, maybe, but the pattern of decisions–

“Oh, so we’re dealing with apophenia, now, great.”


“Okay, so your middle school science fair didn’t cause you to leave the Mormon church, Hayley, but you are theorizing that there may be correlation between the events and decisions along the way?”

Yes, something like that, reader, something like that.

And now I am writing a blog about what it is like to go through major paradigm shifts, and geeking out about my research (global health meets AI…WHAT), and the process of changing your mind shown in the context of my experiences, and a discussion of topics I am learning about and doing deep-dives on, and resources or advice for people going through ideological shifts, and oh hey, there may even be an effective altruist love story (true story, bro) thrown in there.

Though I do not know what this blog will become, I am moving forward, and I am excited for this adventure.