Re: Metarationality (was: JOIN: Alden Streeter)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Aug 26 2002 - 12:38:58 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> Is it rooted in unconscious inference operations? Partly, but also in a lot
> of other unconscious noninferential operations, including some damn mixed-up
> irrational emotional ones.
> Does this kind unconscious irrationality contribute to the overall
> effectiveness (what you call Rationality) of the person embodying it? Sure.
> Nietzsche wouldn't have created his philosophy, Dick wouldn't have created
> his novels, without these unconscious, wildly irrational processes.

They are unconscious, perhaps. But here I think you are using
"irrational" simply to mean "nondeliberative", when there is not
necessarily anything about it that is incomprehensible to a Bayesian
reasoner. As I said before, if you lump all nondeliberative processes
together with warped deliberative processes as "irrationality", then you
lose your ability to distinguish the true path in deliberation and
intuition. Philip K. Dick's thought processes are unconscious and they
may, perhaps, involve the creation of deliberative thoughts that would,
interpreted purely as deliberative thoughts, be irrational. But if the
system as a whole works to produce nonaccidental successes, there is a
rational reason behind it. What, specifically, is happening here that is
outside the domain of evolved intuitions and trained intuitions? What is
happening here that is outside the domain of genetic learning and neural
learning of regularities in reality? Where does the irrationality come in?

> Would they have created better philosophy and fiction without these
> irrational processes, following a purely rational (in the narrower sense)
> internal methodology?
> Well, *no human ever has*.

So what? As I keep trying to say, rationality has nothing to do with
deliberation. I am not talking about rationality in the narrow sense. I
think that's a wholly useless and in fact actively harmful sense.

> In the human brain, some sorts of creative achievement seem to go along with
> rampant internal irrationality.

No, some sorts of creative achievement seem to go along with rampant
internal nondeliberation, perhaps even nondeliberative activities that
create warped deliberative thought processes as side effects. It doesn't
mean that the nonaccidental successes are rationally incomprehensible -
that it is not possible for a Bayesian observer to understand how they
work, and why they work, and conceivably employ a process of that type
deliberately in order to arrive at the same answer.

> Could Van Gogh have painted better sunflowers if he'd been internally
> proceeding in a less whacky, more explicitly rational (in the narrow sense)
> way? Well, no great artist has ever proceeded in an explicitly rational
> way...

But as said before, I am quite uninterested in the narrow sense of
rationality. I've known since the age of eleven that that's not what real
rationality is about. If it were, I would be forced to ignore all
incoming information from my visual cortex because the process happens
nondeliberatively. In fact, I would be forced to ignore my own
deliberative thoughts because they are made up of nondeliberative
components. Calling deliberation by the *normative* name, "rationality",
means losing track of which deliberations are rational and which rational
processes are nondeliberative. Using the word "rationality" to refer to
deliberation carves up reality at the wrong joints, like the phlogiston
theory of combustion.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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