Suppose you asked me to start a rationality dojo. What would I do?

I would tell you "Do not start a rationality dojo. It is a bad idea." A science camp, a programming camp, a math camp, a rhetoric camp and a Bible camp are all much better ideas.

But what if you offered me a lot of money? Then I would do it even though it is a bad idea.

Part 1: Philosophy

Lesson 1: What is Justice?

I would start by giving every student a toga. I'd decorate the facility in the style of Ancient Greece. Two teachers would wear togas too. One teacher would play the role of Socrates. The other teacher would play the role of Aristotle. There would be a buffet with modern Greek food (because ancient Greek food is missing tasty ingredients like tomatoes).

  • The purpose of Socrates is to teach the things Socrates teaches in the Dialogues of Plato.
  • The purpose of Aristotle is to teach the students to question authority.

Aristotle was wrong about basically everything. At the end of Lesson 1, students will be informed that they never should have trusted Aristotle.

Lesson 2: What is the Way?

Same as previous, except we use four Chinese scholars instead: Laozi (Daoism), Sunzi (practical Daoism), Mozi (legalism) and Confucious (Confucianism). Decoration is Chinese. Food is Chinese.

Students will be encouraged to use the Greek philosophical ideas they learned in Lesson 1 against the Chinese philosophers of Lesson 2.

Lesson 3: Economics

This time it's economists: Queen Elizabeth (mercantilism), Adam Smith (libertarian), Karl Marx (communist), Joseph Stalin (Communist), John Keynes (Keyenesian economics), Leonidas (slavery)

Lesson 4: Government

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Xerxes, Mohammad, Catherine the Great, Leonidas

Lesson 5: Civil Rights

Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther, Moses, etcetera.

Lesson 6+

…you get the idea.

Summary

You might notice that at no point do I teach "rationality". That's because rationality is all about distrusting authority. Authority cannot (directly) teach students to distrust it. Distrust must be taught indirectly.

Part 2: Science

Lesson 1: Prove, via experiment, the Earth is round.

Lesson 2: Measure the diameter of the Earth.

Lesson 3: Mathematical proofs.

Lesson 4+: …you get the idea.

Part 3: Rhetoric

Students will have mock debates against each other. Timers will be used.

Part 4: Technology

Students will be taught to use the Linux command line.

Part 5: Scalable Action

Students will build a full-stack website with an AWS Lambda backend.

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I think I agree with several individual points here, or at least would say "similar sounding" things, but disagree with some structural claims.

I would tell you "Do not start a rationality dojo. It is a bad idea." A science camp, a programming camp, a math camp, a rhetoric camp and a Bible camp are all much better ideas.

Empirically, things that have called themselves "Rationality Dojos" have not impressed me (but, to be fair, this is largely because they were informal clubs where people came-and-left whenever, and more like a place where people workshopping early-stage ideas tried out teaching them to people who weren't that serious to begin with.) 

I think there were a number of deep problems that might have been relevant with the idea, but, they were sort of fundamentally flawed in boring ways that don't make me feel like I need to reach for a "deep problem" to explain why they didn't work.

You might notice that at no point do I teach "rationality". That's because rationality is all about distrusting authority. Authority cannot (directly) teach students to distrust it. Distrust must be taught indirectly.

Maybe this is just a disagreement over which words to use, but I think of rationality as importantly containing a lot of important skills other than healthy-distrust-of-authority (or, positive spin on it "capacity to think independently")

Two things that stick out.

  1. ability to find the correct answer when it's important and you have limited data, or the question you're trying to answer is confusing
  2. being able to adapt your cognitive patterns on purpose, to better achieve your goals (which includes finding correct answers, as well as executing on correct strategies)

When I finally got around to reading the book How to Measure Anything, I was like "holy shit, this is what a goddamn economically valuable rationality textbook looks like." It laid out some math, and techniques, and thought processes that were useful for dealing with uncertainty (including when it was useful to spend more time reducing uncertainty). You could totally run a How to Measure Anything Camp, which taught concretely useful skills with good feedback loops in the same way Math Camp might. (not 100% sure what distinctions you were aiming to draw between rationality camp and math/science camp)

How to Measure Anything didn't say anything about how to figure out what goals are worth pursuing, or give you the cognitive skills to notice that your thinking was being distorted, or maladaptive in some way. When I translate "rationality is all about distrusting authority", I'd disagree and reword it to:

"Noticing when your thinking is distorted, or you have a blind-spot, is a subset of the various ways you can learn to think better. Noticing when you are being influenced by or failing-to-see-outside-of social reality is a subset of 'noticing distortion'. Noticing when you are specifically being wrongly-deferential to authority is a subset of 'noticing social-reality distortions'". (I think "distrust authority" is a slogan that simplifies that down in a way I expect to be helpful for some people and unhelpful for others)

How to Measure Anything didn't say anything about how to figure out what goals are worth pursuing, or give you the cognitive skills to notice that your thinking was being distorted, or maladaptive in some way.

From our offline conversations, I think you and I have an even deeper disagreement. I don't think our cognitive skills are distorted. I think cognitive distortions are the fundamental building blocks from which our minds are constructed. I believe that if you remove distortions you'll just get more distortions, basically forever, until it you get to the level of individual neurons, at which point our cognitive processes are just biophysics.

... rationality is all about distrusting authority.

Rationality is all about 'trusting' just the right amount.

I think a 'rationality dojo' could work fine – certainly (possibly) as well as "a science camp, a programming camp, a math camp, a rhetoric camp [or] a Bible camp".

If someone paid me (my cheerful price) to start (and presumably run for at least some time) a rationality dojo, I would (without any other requirements or suggestions) not have any fixed curriculum.

For particular content or activities there might be classes, but the core offering would be 'rationality sparring'. Group sparring sessions would be cheaper per-person; one-on-one would be more expensive.

At the start of each sparring session, I would ask the students "What do you want [from this session]?". We'd go from there!

(Also, why an AWS Lambda backend? That doesn't seem likely to teach effective "scalable action". The hard bits of scaling are often precisely those that can't be neatly encapsulated into an independent, and very brief, computation per 'request'.)

Regarding the economics lecture, which particular version of Keynesianism are you teaching? Will it be Keynes Keynesian economics or what his followers, close and more temporally distant, turned it into?

I have no preference. Probably the latter.