Bystroushaak's blog / English section / Philosophy / Reply to; The Recovering Rationalist 01; A Path Forward

Reply to; The Recovering Rationalist 01; A Path Forward

This article is a reply to specific blogpost, and as such, it doesn't really make sense alone. Please, read The Recovering Rationalist 01: A Path Forward first.

Some quotes from the blog:

I majored in Aerospace Engineering. To solve questions, I used logical thinking, equations, and first principles.
I thought everything could be solved this way. After all, it’s not rocket science.
When I exercised it was to the tune of an excel spreadsheet, meticulously planned and based on Soviet weightlifting textbooks. When I studied Japanese, I used spaced repetition software to perfectly match flashcards with my ‘forgetting curve’.

Later, the author writes:

I started to notice problems that wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard I logiced them.
I thought my failures were from a lack of rationality. That project I procrastinated on? A flaw in my systems. Those weird emotions? Cognitive biases that needed to be removed.

and even later:

I tried to logic my emotional problems away. I stuffed mental models into my head and read papers on the most effective treatments. But my conflict avoidance, my shyness, and my sense of unease all refused to be stuffed-down with reason.

In short, the author describes in the blog his experience with the "rationality", and how it led him to unhappiness.

From what I've read in the blogpost, the author did a classic mistake; he considered rationality to be just logic and thinking. In short, what is sometimes called "Hollywood rationality". In the words of Yudkowsky, one of the rationality speakers and proponents:

In a Hollywood movie, being “rational” usually means that you’re a stern, hyperintellectual stoic. Think Spock from Star Trek, who “rationally” suppresses his emotions, “rationally” refuses to rely on intuitions or impulses, and is easily dumbfounded and outmaneuvered upon encountering an erratic or “irrational” opponent.
There’s a completely different notion of “rationality” studied by mathematicians, psychologists, and social scientists. Roughly, it’s the idea of doing the best you can with what you’ve got. A rational person, no matter how out of their depth they are, forms the best beliefs they can with the evidence they’ve got. A rational person, no matter how terrible a situation they’re stuck in, makes the best choices they can to improve their odds of success.
Real-world rationality isn’t about ignoring your emotions and intuitions. For a human, rationality often means becoming more self-aware about your feelings, so you can factor them into your decisions.

"Real" rationality

I feel uneasy to write this, because I don't consider myself to be in position to lecture someone, and also I am not some kind of rationality guru, but .. you are doing it wrong.

Rationality, as far as I know it, and also how it is described for example by the Yudkowsky, whom the author links in his blog, is a tool for the mind. In the Rationality: From AI to Zombies, Yudkowsky elaborates:

What Do I Mean By “Rationality”?
I mean:
1. Epistemic rationality: systematically improving the accuracy of your beliefs.
2. Instrumental rationality: systematically achieving your values.
When you open your eyes and look at the room around you, you’ll locate your laptop in relation to the table, and you’ll locate a bookcase in relation to the wall. If something goes wrong with your eyes, or your brain, then your mental model might say there’s a bookcase where no bookcase exists, and when you go over to get a book, you’ll be disappointed.
This is what it’s like to have a false belief, a map of the world that doesn’t correspond to the territory. Epistemic rationality is about building accurate maps instead. This correspondence between belief and reality is commonly called “truth,” and I’m happy to call it that.
Instrumental rationality, on the other hand, is about steering reality—sending the future where you want it to go. It’s the art of choosing actions that lead to outcomes ranked higher in your preferences. I sometimes call this “winning.”
So rationality is about forming true beliefs and making winning decisions.

It's not a rational thing to ignore your feelings. On the contrary, that's completely irrational. You are a product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. It shaped your form, your functionality, and your psychology.

Unless you are very specific kind of person, maybe one in a million, you have feelings. Even sociopaths and autistic people have feelings. To ignore your feelings, and to try to become a robot, is a quick way to unhappiness and depression.

Rationality is a tool, a way of thinking. It tells you that your wetware, guided by the no longer relevant evolutionary psychology, is trying to do a stupid thing. It's like math; it can be useful and it can show you the world as it is, and the mistakes in your thinking. But you don't want to make yourself into the human equivalent of electronic calculator.

Ideally, you want to have a balance; to use rationality to reach your goals and to keep your mind from doing mistakes in cognition. And you also want your emotions, ideally to live an interesting, happy and fulfilling life. It is possible to use rationality to do so.

Author's path

If you read the blogpost, you can see that the author is trying to find his way, by accepting the limits of the rationality:

It started not with rejecting rationalism, but accepting its limits. I accepted that rationality is a tool. And like all tools, it works well in some contexts, and poorly in others.
Through much trial and error, I learned that there are non-systemic, non-rational tools available to explore. Amongst the sea of ‘woo’ nonsense there were real, applicable ideas. They weren’t always easy to learn, and they took work to use.

Which is nice I guess, but it still feels like the author is trying to reinvent the wheel, because he got the foundations wrong.

I guess that what I've wanted to communicate is; don't fall into the trap of the "Hollywood rationality". If it doesn't help you, it's not really rationality, or even rational, even though the math may say that it is.

Rationality is about forming true beliefs and making winning decisions.

Pretending that you are a robot, and trying to do everything most effectively, while you feel like shit, is not rational:

  1. You have a false belief that you can be a robot.
  1. You push yourself into making wrong decisions.

This is actually the exact opposite of rationality.

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