The first step of rationality

by toonalfrink 1 min read29th Sep 201914 comments


(Crosspost from LW Netherlands FB group)

The first step of rationality is integrating the self. You're not actually one agent, in the sense of something that has one coherent goal and set of beliefs. You're an ensemble of agents that tend to disagree with each other. And if they do, lots of bad things happen. If it gets really bad, we put these things under the umbrella of mental illness. If it's just slightly bad, we call it things like indecision, brain fog, lack of motivation, confusion, weakness of will, akrasia, etc.

An integrated self is what Maslow pointed at when he listed self-actualized individuals. It's part of what Buddhists call enlightenment. It's the thing you edge towards if you meditate, or when you heal a trauma. It's what Jung gestures towards with his integrating the shadow. It's what you attempt to get, in a very explicit and clunky way, with an Internal Double Crux. Complete integration of self is the end-all be-all of spiritual practice.

Have you ever noticed that your "amount of awareness" goes up and down? That's yourself being more or less integrated over time. Have you ever noticed how, after a decent amount of meditation, your intuitions suddenly work for you instead of against you? That's integration. It's a sudden clarity and control. As if there's less beliefs and goals in your brain to compete with.

Meditation has been shown to increase the amount of white matter in the brain. White matter is the wiring between different areas. More wiring, I imagine, means more communication. More communication, I imagine, means more integration. What's more, the ACC, part of your prefrontal cortex, has a dual function of inhibition and awareness. These functions tend to correlate inversely. As if you have a lot more resources at your disposal if you're not spending them on pushing down parts of you that you disagree with. I speculate that this is the physical substrate of your shadow being inhibited. Integrating your shadow means opening up these gateways to your repressed subagents, making amends with them, going from inhibition to awareness.

So why not just stop our efforts and sign up to the local buddhist Sangha instead? Because in rationality there is a second step. Systematized winning.

While integrating the self, we build the focus and trust needed to have a say over our system 1. When practicing systematized winning, we use our power over our intuitions to program them according to our best understanding of decision- and probability theory, cognitive biases, consequentalist ethics, and anything else that cutting-edge analytic thought can give us.

While a Buddhist might eventually let go of the need of consistency to further liberate their mind, we hold on to it. Our paths diverge where the tails of happiness and productivity come apart.

But that's many years down the line. Until then, I suggest we embrace spirituality.

Some problems are new, but the problem of mental flourishing has been with us for hundreds of thousands of years. Many generations have dedicated their life's work to solving it. In these generations, some people that were many orders of magnitude smarter than you. 92% of the human race is in the past.

Imagine that some of them did figure it out. Imagine that they even managed to hand down the solution to their descendants. How might they have called it? I think they called it spirituality.