Habits for living a more rational life


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Those examples strike me more as rationalizing than rationality, and we tend to rationalize our way into absurd problems.


Which one of these tells you that people are inevitably irrational and that attempting to avoid cognitive bias through self-awareness is an inherently flawed process?


I was about to ask, what if rationality is an illusion? I find I am redundant.

“I try not to treat myself as if I have magic free will; I try to set up influences (habits, situations, etc.) on the way I behave, not just rely on my will to make it so.”

Did you or did you not exhibit “magic free will” when you DECIDED that A) it was a good idea not to treat yourself as though you have magic free will, and B) to set up influences on the way you behave?

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So, I will be more rational and avoid magical thinking by… practicing magick?
head explodes

Free will is an idea permeating our culture and law system and as such deserves a little bit of investigation. It is easy to believe in free will if one sees themselves as a completely isolated and independent entity. But consider this:

Each of us has personal history, starting who knows when and ending about a second ago. All this input, education, trauma, abilities, knowledge etc., influence what we want and do. If someone never saw an ad for the iphone or the device itself, they would never want one. They would never “free will” to spend the effort necessary to buy it.

Could “free will” be influenced by personal history?

Consider the state of the body-mind organism: In the morning one is fresh, in the evening, one might be tired. In the morning one may agree to attend a late party, but at night, she may be too tired and cancel. Could free will be influenced by the needs and state of the body and psyche?

Consider circumstances: The free will outlook sees the world as strings of limited number of causes and effects – “If I catch the 1pm flight with connection in Colorado, I will be at my destination on time for the interview with an hour to spare…” The connecting flight gets cancelled, the interview meeting follows suit. While the world around us is pretty reliable, it is never 100% reliable; even scientific experiments include a margin of error.

Could it be that the results of the “free will” intentions vary based on circumstances?

Choices are often seen as a symptom of free will, and free will is often seen as some kind of independent force, rooted in oneself. I suggest exploring the moment of choice and seeing if it is possible to locate such any force which is independent of everything else.

“I choose to get a glass of water.” – is this independent of bodily needs/thirst?
“I choose to get a job in SF.” – is this independent of the needs for success, adventure & learning, the need to matter and curiosity?

I am still to meet or experience this free will everyone is talking about.


Careful, that kind of thinking didn’t work out too well for Bartleby.


In patients whose head injury causes them to lose emotion, it’s found that they have a hard time making any decision. Emotions evolved in us for a reason.

/the CfAR is very/almost-exclusively white. There exactly one non-white person - who is “particularly interested in helping people adapt open mindsets optimized for learning and acceptance, both of other ideas and other people”. I hope he can do so.

//is David Critch Mark Critch’s brother?


I believe one or two papers have been written on the subject.


Feh. I’ll bet you deny qualia too.

Yeah, my post has nothing to do with all that but fair enough. I just found it amusing that what he was describing is pretty much how ‘magic’ ‘works’. :smile:

(and i didn’t intend to quote you, sorry if it seemed like I was responding to you rather than the original article)

if you’d like to learn more about methods of rationality via a more narrative structure: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Much better than it sounds.

It’s a fine checklist. You’re probably better off just reading “Thinking Fat And Slow,” and making your own, and thereby steering clear of the frequently frustrating contradiction between the ratiocination education mission of the Less Wrong crew and their eschatological rabbit holes surrounding increasingly rusty Singularity panic.

Don’t knock rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

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“Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”


All of them. The people at CFAR (to whom I have no connection except reading some of their blogs) aren’t dumb. They know that many of our biases are hardwired (either accidentally or for what were good reasons in the ancestral environment). People don’t automatically compensate for biases (at least not correctly) even after they know about them. And maybe some really are uncorrectable.

But some aren’t. And even if you can’t eliminate a bias, some can at least be reduced. I am biased towards overreating (an irrational decision for my health, happiness, etc.). But since I know that I reduce that bias’ impact (applied rationality) by not keeping certain foods around (in practice trivial obstacles have a huge impact on behavior, hence mail-in rebates), dividing food into single portions right after a meal when I’m less hungry, knowing that a small amount of something really delicious but bad for me will improve my satisfaction with a meal afterwards (peak/end effect in memory) etc.

That’s a really simple and obvious personal example, but the idea is the same with CFAR - just with more science behind it (CFAR reads the literature, then designs curricula and sees if it actually helps real people who attend their workshops). Willpower is limited (akrasia), so cultivate habits instead of relying on deliberate choices (this works well for daily exercise routines, getting boy scouts to do good deeds, etc.). Scope insensitivity makes it difficult to accurately judge the relative importance of large-scale goals, so when you make donations you can have a bigger impact by giving a small amount to a cause that makes you feel good (whatever that may be, like curing rare diseases in orphaned puppies) and the rest to whatever charity has the best results per dollar (a la http://www.givewell.org/).

More broadly, “free will” appears to have deep compatibility problems with causality. If one suspects the universe of being causal, it’s not clear where you wiggle in anything that isn’t determined by inputs(albeit often of intractable complexity).

However, if one decides to hypothesize an acausal ‘will’ that is not wholly determined by inputs, what sort of freedom is one left with?

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I’d take an absurd problem that I rationalized myself into any day. At least those can sometimes be rationalized back out, if you check your work carefully.

The ugly, and crushingly disappointing, cognitive limits are in those situations where the pitiful little chunk of verbose introspection we flatter ourselves is a ‘self’ is carried to an absurd problem by affective currents that are deeply obscure and so vastly different in both degree and kind as to be orthogonal to any attempt at reason or rationalization.

Trying to reason with an affect state is like trying to talk yourself out of an optical illusion. The knowledge problem and the visual phenomenon are essentially unrelated.

Isn’t it depressing that we are still so close to where we were that a dodgy workaround introduced in the Platonic Dialogs to overcome objections to a theory of human motivation is still relevant? “Oh, sure, to know the good is to do the good, Um, except akrasia… Never you mind about that.”