Re: Metarationality (was: JOIN: Alden Streeter)

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Thu Aug 29 2002 - 16:14:59 MDT

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Samantha Atkins wrote:
> >
> > Can you directly support the implied claim that all real reasoning
> > (substitute your doubtless better phraises here) is bayesian or covered
> > by BPT? I see you asserting this but it does not strike me as
> > obviously true or yet directly argued for much less proved.
> Well, learning to see the BPT beneath the surface of all nonaccidental
> successes is a skill that takes some work. Generally, you look for the
> reason why something works, say "X is evidence about Y for reason Z", or
> "X correlates to Y for reason Z", and then, poof, it's governed by the
> BPT. In that sense you might call it a tautology... but it's a very
> powerful, very useful tautology, especially if you've previously been
> thinking of all the surface manifestations of the BPT as different things.
> If you like, consider it a challenge: Name a nonaccidental success, and
> I'll show you how it's rational or why rationality lies beneath its
> surface.

I get the above. What I don't get is why "success" covers
everything of any real importance about reality, precisely what
you mean by "success" and precisely why only the things you
subsume under this and that are congruent with the extended BPT
are to you the end and be all of rationality and by implication,
the end and be-all of worthwhile mind-stuff/intellect/awareness.
Or have I misunderstood you (possibly in multiple ways)?

> >> Yes. And because you use "rational" to denote only this kind of
> >> thought, you can get away with telling yourself that "both
> >> 'rationality' and 'irrationality' are necessary to thought", thereby
> >> avoiding the necessity of getting rid of comforting irrational
> >> thoughts.
> >
> > This talk of "getting away with" and avoiding getting rid of
> > "conforting" irrational thoughts is an invention out of whole cloth.
> > It begs the question of whether some of the definitions of "rational"
> > used or implied are in fact rational and whether some things some
> > speakers claim are irrational or at least arational are not essential
> > aspects of thinking/learning/knowing.
> Okay. Maybe the question ought to be asked, and answered? Do you think
> the definition I'm using of "rational" is irrational, and if so, why? Do
> you think that something I've called "arational" is an essential aspect of
> thinking, and if so, why? (Note that if it is, then the BPT is underneath
> it somewhere, and I was wrong to call it "arational"... If you have a
> nonaccidental success that you think is *not* governed by the BPT, drag it
> out and let my BPT-detectors give it a sniff.)

I don't think the definition per se is "irrational" and
claiming it is at this point would beg the question of what the
"rational" is and is not which hasn't, in my opinion, been fully
addressed here. It would also leave the question unaddressed
regarding the place and possible importance of parts of our
mental functioning that are not subsumed under what we may
define as "rational". That question was what kicked us into
this topic in the first place. I also find arguments stating
that if a mental process "works", then it is "rational" not at
all satisfying. What we consider "thinking" to actually consist
of and its own relationship to the totality of our mind-stuff
and whether important things lie outside of "thinking", much
less rationality are also interesting areas worthy of exploration.

> > It may be your opinion but you have not justified it nor justified that
> > persons arguing these claims are doing it because they find them
> > "comforting". I find this line distasteful as it seems to border on
> > ad-hominem or some kind of more rational than thou thrust.
> The social reaction to all this is straightforward, and predictable... but
> all people are *not* equally rational.

That was not in question. I was questioning whether it is
appropriate to imply that someone questioning your understanding
or use of rationality is reacting because what you are saying is
against what they would prefer. To say so is to accuse the
other person of being guilty of reacting instead of reasonably
questioning what they don't understand. I find this objectionable.

> There's nothing implausible
> about the thought that some people might be more rational than other
> people. Choosing to speak those thoughts openly is a choice that I've
> made under my own goals, of course, but part of those goals is learning
> to treat thoughts as representative of truth, and not just means for
> manipulating other people... so if thoughts are just representative of
> truth, why would truths about which people are more rational than other
> people be special? It's obvious that they have a special status in
> social interactions. But since I know about that, to care about it would
> require a special decision. Maybe it makes more sense to just pursue
> the truth as far as it goes.

Accusing other people of being irrational (effectively) when
they question your notions about rationality and living
rationally is not, imo, at all indicative of rationality. It is
smacks more of rude presumption.

> Incidentally, if Ben succeeds in building an AI and I do not, it would
> not be the least bit unusual to suggest that Ben was enormously more
> rational than I, as an enabling factor in his being able to do that.
> The converse is also true. Among those who dare attempt to meddle in
> the Singularity it is neither unlikely nor unexpected that enormous
> differentials in rationality might exist. I think that a sufficiently
> rational mind, even a human mind, should be able to reason about this as
> an ordinary fact. Perhaps I am mistaken.

Certainly this can be reasoned about given some reasonable level
of understanding of people and rationality and so on. But
actual claims that someone is arguing from their preferences
instead of from reason need the backing of evidence rather than
just assertion and implication.

- samantha

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