Places where rationality* is not welcome:

Churches, political parties, Congress, family reunions, dates, cable news, bureaucracy, casinos... . *Of course rationality might dictate deception- but I take it lying confers some cost on the liar.

Please list the rest. Also, who here is involved with any of the things on the list? Am I wrong to include something and if not how do you deal with being rational in a place that discourages it.

I would say rationality is welcome in those places, conditional on it not opposing their goals. It could be argued that opposing your own goals isn't rational -- if acting rationally means you lose, is it really rationality? I guess this is another case where rationality as truth-seeking and rationality as goal-following can conflict. In fact there are many places where truth can be enemy to varying degrees, places where incomplete truth, misleading truth, even outright lies can be advantageous to a goal.

For example, in chess it is disadvantageous to expl... (read more)

The Costs of Rationality

by RobinHanson 1 min read3rd Mar 200981 comments

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The word "rational" is overloaded with associations, so let me be clear: to me [here], more "rational" means better believing what is true, given one's limited info and analysis resources. 

Rationality certainly can have instrumental advantages.  There are plenty of situations where being more rational helps one achieve a wide range of goals.  In those situtations, "winnners", i.e., those who better achieve their goals, should tend to be more rational.  In such cases, we might even estimate someone's rationality by looking at his or her "residual" belief-mediated success, i.e., after explaining that success via other observable factors.

But note: we humans were designed in many ways not to be rational, because believing the truth often got in the way of achieving goals evolution had for us.  So it is important for everyone who intends to seek truth to clearly understand: rationality has costs, not only in time and effort to achieve it, but also in conflicts with other common goals.

Yes, rationality might help you win that game or argument, get promoted, or win her heart.  Or more rationality for you might hinder those outcomes.  If what you really want is love, respect, beauty, inspiration, meaning, satisfaction, or success, as commonly understood, we just cannot assure you that rationality is your best approach toward those ends.  In fact we often know it is not.

The truth may well be messy, ugly, or dispriting; knowing it make you less popular, loved, or successful.  These are actually pretty likely outcomes in many identifiable situations.  You may think you want to know the truth no matter what, but how sure can you really be of that?  Maybe you just like the heroic image of someone who wants the truth no matter what; or maybe you only really want to know the truth if it is the bright shining glory you hope for. 

Be warned; the truth just is what it is.  If just knowing the truth is not reward enough, perhaps you'd be better off not knowing.  Before you join us in this quixotic quest, ask yourself: do you really want to be generally rational, on all topics?  Or might you be better off limiting your rationality to the usual practical topics where rationality is respected and welcomed?

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