Books on rationality

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri May 31 2002 - 20:55:52 MDT

> The first step is to develop a reading list of books that have been
> influential in developing rational thought. In order to expand the
> list, I'm asking you to reply with any additions that you might have.
> Here's what we have so far (putting my initial list and Eliezer's
> additions together):
> Beyond anthropomorphism by Eliezer Yudkowsky (section 2 of CFAI)
> The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley
> Man: The Moral Animal by Robert Wright
> The Mind's Past by Michael S. Gazzaniga
> Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman
> Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

If you're going to recommend Pirsig, I think his second book (what was the
title? "Lila" ?) actually went into a lot more depth about the working of
the mind, the patterns of culture and their influence on the mind, etc.
Check it out.

A really really deep book on the freeing of the mind from irrationality of
all sorts is "Thought as a System" by David Bohm, which goes on and on about
liberating ourselves from cultural and biological thought systems. It was
deeply influenced by Bohm's (he's a quantum physicist) long relationship
with Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti, "The Nature of the Mind"
It's true that Krishnamurti was religious in a sense, but not in a mystical
or mythical sense at all. I know of no better writing on the experience of
having a mind that irrationally pushes one in all sorts of crazy directions.
Very different from more "scientific" books on the mind in that, following
the Eastern tradition, the focus is on *conscious experience* .

Also, to anyone who enjoys sci-fi at all, I'd recommend
**Riverworld**, by Philip Jose' Farmer [a series of 5 novels. A couple
characters, Piscator and Nur, are held out as paragons of enlightened
rational thought, and there is a heck of a lot of discourse on the topic of
rationality and the flaws of ordinary human thought. Also, thought it could
use some serious red-penciling, it remains a really great work of fiction
;> ]

> If anyone is wondering how the heck this relates to SL4, I see
> encouraging rational thought as a way to reduce public resistance to the
> Singularity since, as we have seen many times on this list and other
> places, most people reject the Singularity because they think too much
> like an ape and not enough like a rational mind. And, even if something
> like this doesn't work out to help the Singularity, it's still neat to
> compile something that we can print out and hand to people when they
> don't understand why they have some thought or feeling.

I think that to get many humans to think significantly more rationally is

a) impossible, or

b) such a long-term project that it would take vastly longer than the 10-100
years we have till the Singularity

I will admit that people think a little more rationally now than 1000 years
ago... at least in some parts of the world.... But this was a long time
coming. I can't see change in human culture equally technological change in
its pace.

So, while I think that advocating rational thought is a good thing, I doubt
efforts in this regard are going to help much with Singularity acceptance.
No reason not to try though ;)

One more thing; I think the term "rational thought" can rub some people the
wrong way. It rubs *me* the wrong way a little, and would certainly have
the same impact (but more strongly) on many artists & musicians & writers
whom I know. Artistic sorts value their "irrational" intuitions and tastes
very much. Now, your citation of Pirsig indicates to me that you don't mean
"rationality" in a very narrow sense -- i.e. you don't mean it to rule out
following wild intuitions, you just mean it to rule out following wild
intuitions *without rationally understanding that they're wild intuitions
and that sometimes the best thing to do is to follow them."

But anyway, I think you should be extra clear about this when writing up
your manifestoes of rationality, to avoid alienating large sectors of the
intellectual population (I say the "intellectual population" because only a
teeeeny fraction of the population gives a crap about rationality or
intuition or artistic creativity or anything vaguely related to any of these

-- Ben

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