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A refresher: what is “rationality?” [1]

Rationality is the art of thinking in ways that result in accurate beliefs and good decisions [as understood by the LessWrong community; this understanding of rationality differs from others, some of which are more common in colloquial usage than “LessWrong rationality”]. It is the primary topic of LessWrong.

Rationality is not only about avoiding the vices of self-deception and obfuscation (the failure to communicate clearly), but also about the virtue of curiosity, seeing the world more clearly than before, and achieving things previously unreachable to you. The study of rationality on LessWrong includes a theoretical understanding of ideal cognitive algorithms, as well as building a practice that uses these idealized algorithms to inform heuristics, habits, and techniques, to successfully reason and make decisions in the real world.

Resources and materials

To learn more about rationality, I recommend (in order of usefulness per unit of effort): 

To learn more about systematically doing good (i.e. effective altruism) I recommend:

Some of the best rationality essays [2]

Below you can find some of the best writings on rationality, in no particular order:

  1. Affective Death Spirals
  2. Uncritical Supercriticality
  3. Cached Thoughts
  4. We Change Our Minds Less Often Than We Think
  5. Hold Off On Proposing Solutions
  6. Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People
  7. Update Yourself Incrementally
  8. The Bottom Line
  9. Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points
  10. Motivated Stopping and Motivated Continuation
  11. Anti-Epistemology
  12. The Proper Use of Humility
  13. You Can Face Reality
  14. The Meditation on Curiosity
  15. Something to Protect
  16. Crisis of Faith
  17. Mind Projection Fallacy
  18. Reductionism
  19. Explaining vs. Explaining Away
  20. Angry Atoms
  21. Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences)
  22. Humans are not automatically strategic
  23. Local Validity as a Key to Sanity and Civilization
  24. Twelve Virtues of Rationality
  25. The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?
  26. Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided
  27. "Other people are wrong" vs "I am right"
  28. On Caring
  29. Outline of Galef's "Scout Mindset"
  30. Generalizing From One Example
  31. Diseased thinking: dissolving questions about disease
  32. How An Algorithm Feels From Inside
  33. Scope Insensitivity
  34. Conservation of Expected Evidence
  35. Your Strength as a Rationalist
  36. Your intuitions are not magic
  37. How To Convince Me that 2 + 2 = 3
  38. The simple truth
  39. Circular altruism


[1] Taken from the Rationality Tag, though the bracketed words are mine.

[2] Half of these are the bolded essays from here, the other half were recommended by a well-read LessWronger. By “some of the best” I really mean “some of the most useful to read, probably.” This is not authoritative at all; please comment if you think we missed any important essays.


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