Rationality quotes January 2012

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"if we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition – even when it seems to be doing a little good – we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.”

– Carl Sagan

Everyday words are inherently imprecise. They work well enough in everyday life that you don't notice. Words seem to work, just as Newtonian physics seems to. But you can always make them break if you push them far enough.

--Paul Graham, How to Do Philosophy

[surprisingly not a duplicate]

Do not accept any of my words on faith,
Believing them just because I said them.
Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
And critically examines his product for authenticity.
Only accept what passes the test
By proving useful and beneficial in your life.

-- The Buddha, Jnanasara-samuccaya Sutra

Good instrumental rationality quote; not so good for epistemic rationality.

"Proving useful in your life" (but not necessarily "proving beneficial") is the core of instrumental rationality, but what's useful is not necessarily what's true, so it's important to refrain from using that metric in epistemic rationality.

Example: cognitive behavioral therapy is often useful "to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions", but not useful for pursuing truth. There's also mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for an example more relevant to Buddhism.

I suppose that is a tension between epistemic and instrumental rationality.

Put in terms of a microeconomic trade-off: The marginal value of having correct beliefs diminishes beyond a certain threshold. Eventually, the marginal value of increasing one's epistemic accuracy dips below the marginal value that comes from retaining one's mistaken belief. At that point, an instrumentally rational agent may stop increasing accuracy.

On the other hand, it may be a problem of local-versus-global optima: The marginal value of accuracy may creep up again. Or maybe those who see it as a problem can fix it with the right augmentation.

I suppose that is a tension between epistemic and instrumental rationality.

There is no tension. Epistemic rationality is merely instrumental, while instrumental rationality is not. They are different kinds of things. Means to an end don't compete with what the end is.

Epistemic rationality is merely instrumental, while instrumental rationality is not.

Upvoted for this

Example: cognitive behavioral therapy is often useful "to solve problems concerning dysfunctional emotions", but not useful for pursuing truth.

It is useful for pursuing truth to the extent that it can correct actually false beliefs when they happen to tend in one direction.

This sometimes comes at the expense of other truths, just as pursuing evidence for your preferred conclusion turns up real evidence but a less accurate map.

Not everything that is more difficult is more meritorious.

-Saint Thomas Aquinas

I wish I would have memorized this quote before attending university.

*This comment was inspired by Will_Newsome's attempt to find rationality quotes in Summa Theologica.

Summa Theologica is a good example of what happens when you have an excellent deductive system (Aquinas was great at syllogisms) and flawed axioms (a literal interpretation of the Bible).

Summa Theologica is a good example of what happens when you have an excellent deductive system (Aquinas was great at syllogisms) and flawed axioms (a literal interpretation of the Bible).

Aquinas probably meant something different by "literal interpretation" than you think. For instance, I'm pretty sure he agreed with Augustine that the six days of creation were not literally six periods of 24 hours.

For instance, I'm pretty sure he agreed with Augustine that the six days of c