Re: Metarationality (was: JOIN: Alden Streeter)

From: Gordon Worley (
Date: Fri Aug 23 2002 - 18:55:42 MDT

On Friday, August 23, 2002, at 07:13 PM, Ben Goertzel wrote:

> I think that most scientists and engineers like to delude themselves
> that
> they are more rational than they really are. People in this category
> probably *are* generally more rational than most people, but this
> doesn't
> mean they're as rational as they think they are...

They know more about logic and, therefore, are able to manage to see
through their own irrationality more often. Usually, though, they just
get lucky and have good heuristics for limiting bias.

> As to my own rationality or otherwise as regards AI, I have in the past
> made
> overoptimistic estimates about when various software projects will be
> completed, including AI projects. I have an emotional bias toward
> impatience and overoptimism, and I have learned to correct it to a large
> extent, via "meta-rationality" (conscious control of my own thinking
> processes specifically oriented toward dampening my natural
> optimism). I
> have not fully internalized this dampening, in the sense that my FIRST
> reaction is always still overoptimism, and the more realistic reaction
> only
> comes thru further conscious thought. The trick, for me, is how to
> maintain my enthusiastic optimistic *attitude* without the irrationally
> overoptimistic time estimates that sometimes come along with it. I'm
> learning, and some parts of my brain resist!!

This is not rationality!

What you are doing, Ben, is trying to moderate your irrationality. This
is no different than what those `rational' scientists do. All this
allows you to do is stumble onto rational conclusions more often than
other people.

Consider my earlier example with the Randians. If I were thinking like
you, I'd have a heuristic that would tell me to avoid getting into
arguments with them. Consequently, I wouldn't ever discuss my thoughts
on Randianism with them. This is just as irrational as arguing with
every last one of them! What is rational is to determine *why* you want
to argue them and if it is a valid reason or just a rationalized reason
generated by your brain. This is what is essential to rationality: you
don't have a heuristic to make you more rational in a given situation,
you think the situation through rationally (using such tools as logic
and Bayesian statistics) and arrive at the most rational conclusion.

> I do think I'm significantly more rational than most people, and I think
> this is largely because of conscious efforts I've made to correct
> emotional
> errors in my thinking, of which the bias toward overoptimism described
> in
> the previous paragraph is just one (relatively simple) example. My
> brain,
> from birth, was endowed with an unusual capability for complex rational
> thought; but adjusting my personality and habits of thought to *utilize*
> this capability in a thoroughgoing way rather than just in isolated
> intellectual contexts, has been a bit of an effort!!

I sometimes question whether you have made the fundamental shift to
rationality and if you are just a very logical thinker. At any rate,
even if you have, you have a *long* way to go to reach a reasonable
degree of rationality. Or, a better way of putting it is that you
haven't come very far. I and Eliezer have come a long way, but there is
still a long way to go, some of it very difficult because it's attacking
very fundamental ways of human thought. I hope that my book, when done,
will serve to bring people along to greater degrees of rationality.

Gordon Worley                     `When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty            said, `it means just what I choose                it to mean--neither more nor less.'
PGP:  0xBBD3B003                                  --Lewis Carroll

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