Useful Terms and “Stupid” Questions

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What is “cognitive bias”? What’s the difference between “deconstruction” and “deconversion”?

Deconstruction has been a “thing” on the internet for several years. Joining a movement after it starts might mean there are terms people use all the time without explaining. Moreover, you may feel that asking what they mean will make you look stupid.

I want to try to define a few terms. These definitions may be incorrect in important ways, but they should be less wrong than not knowing. Knowing them may also get you a meaningful part of the way to fuller understanding.

Here goes!


When I use deconstruction, I mean “digging into the hard questions about your worldview AND being willing to consider doing something different based on your answers.” It doesn’t necessarily result in a complete loss of faith, but it usually does result in some significant change in your beliefs.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the word used in a circumstance where somebody became more rigid or conservative. (If you have, please let me know in the comments.)

I have heard it used in place of deconversion. I’m guessing that this mainly has to do with the speed of conversation rather than using a precise definition.


This one is easier to define. It’s a loss of your current faith. Even if lose your faith, you could consider other religions or spiritual paths, not necessarily becoming an atheist or agnostic.

It can happen after a prolonged deconstruction or more quickly after something “clicks,” depending on the person and circumstances.

Cognitive Bias

This term doesn’t show up often, but you may hear the phrase, “confirmation bias.” This is a kind of cognitive bias.

A cognitive bias is a structural flaw in human reason. It has to do with how people think about certain things. Some examples are seeking evidence that supports our beliefs (confirmation bias), seeking evidence that refutes other people’s beliefs (disconfirmation bias), focusing on negative things (negativity bias), assuming that someone’s character is exemplified by a single action (fundamental attribution error), etc.

This is different from liberal or conservative biases, which have more to do with seeing things through our own worldview. Related, but worth keeping distinct.

The important thing is that it’s common to all humans. Super-smart, rational humans are prone to cognitive biases, just like the rest of us. We all have to fight them. Constant vigilance!


You also don’t hear this term often, but you may if you pay attention to counter-apologetics.

A fallacy is a flaw in an argument. For example, saying an argument is wrong because of where the proponent came from or who they are (genetic fallacy) or saying your argument gets to play by special rules that other arguments don’t (special pleading).

It’s definitely helpful to be familiar with the shapes of these fallacies.

“Stupid questions”

No definition… I want to point out that one of the joys of deconstructing is the pursuit of knowledge; knowledge that was once limited or forbidden. In fact, the even greater joy is the pursuit of knowledge in general, which is one of the most human things we can do.

As a result, it’s worth considering: Is sounding stupid for a moment worth cutting yourself off from these joys?

Suppose you ask “obvious” questions. In reality, you usually don’t sound stupid but curious. And you may do others the service of getting answers to these questions. Win-win!

A whole world of terms exist that I haven’t pursued myself–mostly around sexuality, race, and other topics of the day. I don’t know if it’s because I’m scared to ask or I’m afraid to know the answers.

Are there questions you’re afraid to ask? What other terms may be useful to define?


  • RationalWiki on Logical Fallacy—The tone of RationalWiki is less gracious than I’m going for, but it’s a helpful resource
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman—One of the most important popular works on cognitive biases. It’s also relatively easy to read.
  • The Scout Mindset, by Julia Galef—A very easy and practical introduction into how cognitive biases show up, and what to do about them.
  • Deconversion—A resource on this site that David has put together.

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