RE: Books on rationality

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Fri Jun 07 2002 - 10:29:01 MDT

Does anyone else get the feeling that some of these
discussions are trying to get too close to the notion
of *rationality*? I mean this: while of course the
whole point is to get a better understanding, allow
me to quote myself:

"Words are like ball-bearings on a skating rink:
to get anywhere, tread lightly and avoid putting
too much weight on any one of them."

The easy part: adopting the truth of that prescription
and seeing how in the recent discussion several people
we'd always describe as "quite rational" scarcely knew
what they meant by the term.

The hard part: getting somewhere, especially in software,
I suppose, without heavy reliance on hard and well-defined
concepts. (I'm confident from what I've read, however,
that no one is likely to be doing a better job than some
of the savants on this list.)

The easy part, again: criticizing a recent post, (just to
pick one):

Gordon writes
> Eliezer writes
> > is more rational than the other. Both fellows, if they
> > are not Zen masters, will be attracted by the immediate
> > short-term temptation...
> Well, you don't *have* to be a Zen master, but it does help.
> This example comes from personal experience, because at one
> time this is the kind of thing I would have done. I've moved
> beyond that and it simply doesn't happen anymore.

Iz zat so? I'm very skeptical that it is even possible,
let alone wise, to *always* resist short term temptation.
(Strange that evolution never stumbled on endowing some
creature with only long term goals.)

I liked Eliezer's discussion of "macho rationality" of
Thu 6/6/2002 2:04 PM) though I'm not sure I understood
all of it. I must point out that over-reliance on long
term goals is (a) irrational (that's what over-reliance
means) (b) assumes certain notions of identity.

(For the latter point, recall those people who claim not
to be the same person from day to day, or from year to
year: for them, sacrificing for the long haul is stupid.)

I think that the evident preference (for those people we
tend to call rational) for sacrificing short term prospects
for long term goals indeed implies stable identity over
time. It's those institutions that have been around for
a long time that gain our greatest respect.


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