RE: Metarationality (was: JOIN: Alden Streeter)

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Aug 24 2002 - 19:14:35 MDT

Gordon wrote:
> > Firstly, Gordon, I would like to invite you to define or describe what
> > you
> > mean by "rationality" as clearly as you can.
> Okay, I'm going to try to do this. This is a bit like asking a Buddha
> to define enlightenment, though. :-P
> Rationality is a qualitative change in thinking. It is characterized by
> the consistent use of logical thought and Bayesian reasoning and the
> disuse of evolved thinking (in all it's forms: intuition as it is
> commonly understood, rationalization, pseudo logic, etc.). You
> eliminate all irrational thought, and what is left is pure rationality.

I think of rational inference as a kind of "evolved thought".... Where else
do you think it came from?

I don't believe it's possible to eliminate all irrational thought from a
human brain. I am willing to be proved wrong, but I can't think of exactly
how such a proof would be executed prior to having a full understanding of
brain function and highly accurate brain scanners. I guess I'd be almost
convinced if I met someone who qualitatively seemed to demonstrate pure and
perfect rationality, but I have never met that person.

Of course, I've never met you ;-)

So, when I sit down to improvise at the piano, as a rationalist would I have
to reason about which note to play next?

When writing an article, should I reason consciously & logically about which
sentence to type next?

What about "going with the flow"? This seems to me to be a very efficient
algorithm for producing good stuff. Reason seems to enter into such
processes mainly

* to judge things afterwards
*when a particularly tricky spot comes up

If I had to consciously, logically reason about every note I played on the
piano, or every sentence I wrote, then I would not get to do much of
anything with my time...

> Maybe now you see why any use of irrational thinking bothers me. Sure,
> you can keep using irrational thought processes, but you will only ever
> gain so much rationality, and it will be tenuous since you are
> maintaining a tie to irrational thoughts when you know that you should
> be trying to eliminate them.

I don't "know" or even believe that I should be trying to eliminate them.

I think that nonrational thinking is highly adaptive for me and other human
organisms. It needs to be kept in balance with rational thought, and the
different aspects of both rational & nonrational thought need to be kept in
balance with each other.

> > Secondly, I think everyone understands that rationality is a way of
> > thinking.
> Well, I sometimes see comments that suggest otherwise, so I want to be
> sure that it's clear. Even if you're clear on it, someone else on the
> list might not be (I think that we're probably talking above the heads
> of most of the list, but I could be wrong).

I doubt that. Actually, compared to many topics on this list, this topic is
not very obscure at all. It pertains to "folk psychology" and cognitive
psychology -- to the experience of having and using a mind, which is
something we all share. Unlike some of the more techie topics we've pursued
on the list, such as the inner workings of various AI systems ;)

> > What Samantha and I seem to both be arguing, is that there are large and
> > useful portions of the brain which this particular way of thinking does
> > not
> > engage. And there are other, complementary, nonrational ways of
> > thinking
> > that are also highly worthwhile.
> They produce usable results sometimes. This does not mean this is the
> most efficient use of your brain.

It is true, the pragmatic usefulness of nonrational thoughts does not PROVE
that a thought process incorporating nonrationality is maximally efficient
for the human brain.

However, I nevertheless believe that a thought process incorporating *some
nonzero degree* of nonrationality is maximally efficient for the human

How large this nonzero degree is, I don't know. It's context-dependent for

And whether this holds for nonhumanlike AI systems, I also don't know.

I do know that in the Novamente design, we've had to make some compromises
that effectively make Novamente irrational in some cases and contexts.
Because to preserve pure rationality in all contexts is not computationally

Now, you may say this proves Novamente is an inadequate or suboptimal AI
design. I am sure it is suboptimal, but I hope it is not inadequate! And I
encourage you or Eliezer or anyone else to propose a detailed design for an
AI mind that is thoroughly rational, designed to achieve high levels of
creativity without any significant nonrational elements ;)


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