"What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?"
-The fundamental question of Rationality
What is it?
Rationality (more precisely "Bayesian Rationality" or “Less Wrong Rationality”) is a community, philosophy, and epistemology.
- As a community, its nexus is the website 'Less Wrong', and has various physical meetups across the world, ranging from coffee shop hangouts to large organizations.
- Some notable names in the movement are Eliezer Yudkowsky (a prominent AI researcher, founder of the community, and author of 'Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality' which popularized the movement), Scott Alexander (psychiatrist, author, and founder of the Slate Star Codex/Astral Codex Ten blog), Julia Galef (author, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality), and Robin Hanson (professor of economics, founder of the blog where Yudkowsky began his writings)
- As a philosophy, it concerns itself with accomplishing one's goals most effectively or, as the community affectionately says, "winning".
- This sounds simpler than it is. It includes understanding one's goals at a deep enough level that you do not actively work against yourself as people often do. It also requires learning how the world around you works well enough so you can influence it.
- As an epistemology, Rationality is a form of 'Skeptical Empiricism' (not to be confused with philosophical 'Rationalism', which it is actually opposed to).
- It assumes that there is an objective truth which exists regardless of what one believes, that this truth can be incrementally discovered via experimentation and reason (science, decision theory, General Semantics, and Bayesian probability theory chief among its methods), but that cognitive biases and other errors of thinking often get in the way (which can be mitigated or solved outright if one studies and trains enough).
What does it teach?
💡 Rationality is not a set of tenets of what to think, but a framework of how to think.
💡 This is not an exhaustive list of everything, these are simply what I think are the foundational lessons. To learn more, visit readthesequences.com
"The Map is Not the Territory"
- Your beliefs are a way to navigate the world around you, like a map for navigating a territory.
- Your beliefs (and your ignorance) are a fact about you, not a fact about reality; no more than the squiggles on a map of New York City are actually the features of New York City.
- Because a map can never be the territory, all your beliefs should be held with a confidence level (ie you should think probabilistically); this is what allows you to keep your mind open to new evidence.
"Make Your Beliefs Pay Rent"
- Every belief that is worth occupying your head should be able to make an advance, falsifiable prediction about reality. A belief that doesn't make predictions is wishful thinking at best, delusion at worst, and is not paying its rent. Evict it.
- Take your ideas seriously enough to recognize what it would look like if you were wrong.
"Notice Your Confusion"
- Confusion or surprise means that either your map of the world is wrong/incomplete, or the information you are receiving is wrong/incomplete.
- This should be treated as a large STOP sign. Do not attempt to rationalize it away with an explanation. You cannot reliably resolve confusion about the world using the same combination of map and information that became confused. Admit your ignorance, then seek more data or modify your map.
"Politics is the Mind-Killer"
- Your political/identity-based beliefs should always be held under extra scrutiny, as we tend to think less critically about these. It’s even easier to keep your identity small, to avoid this problem in the first place.