Are Wisdom and Rationality the same? If not, how are they different? Is one a subset of the other? Or does each have parts that aren't contained in the other?

Rationality is about cognitive algorithms, that either improve your map-territory correspondence or help you achieve your goals. We also have notions like Rationality is Systematized Winning

To me it feels like wisdom partially overlaps with rationality and part of it isn't captured by rationality. I also have the sense that I want to cultivate and have both wisdom and rationality, but where I can articulate what I mean by rationality as I did above, I can't quite do so for wisdom in a way that clearly distinguishes it from rationality. 

I can't find an answer to the question "under what rare circumstances can you not deflate the word 'wise' out of a sentence?" which Eliezer asks about the word 'rational'.

Some extensional observations about wisdom that might help grok an intensional description.

So, what sentence can the word 'wise' not be deflated from? What is Wisdom, and how is it different from Rationality? 

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Apr 14, 2023


Different people may use words differently. How I see it, rationality is a process of converting input data into knowledge, and wisdom is a database of already accumulated knowledge.

High rationality + low wisdom = a person mostly correctly reasoning in a new situation where they do not understand the context. In real life I would expect such person to be overconfident (believe they have all relevant facts when in fact they have barely seen 1% of the problem), believe in all kinds of simplifications (that seem to match the little data they have), and fall for various scams (not realize that the facts they pay attention to may have been selected by an adversary). Young people are more likely to be like this.

High wisdom + low rationality = a person knowing and probably also following the best practices, but unable to adapt to new situations. In real life I would expect such person to avoid giving specific answers (knowing that most generalizations have exceptions, and that the mistakes you make will be remembered better than the correct predictions you make), ignore new information (by pattern-matching it to something old, or just assuming that everything new is a fad that will soon pass), and be exploitable by a person who understands their reasoning and keeps saying the right words. Old people are more likely to be like this.

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Eliezer wrote about the awareness of your own cognitive biases and limitations, and potentially correcting them or at least accounting for them, but it is still the hardest part of rationality: noticing he existence, in the words of the late unlamented Donald Rumsfeld, Unknown Unknowns. Intuitively understanding the limitations of your own mind and where they lie, and correcting for them as much as possible, even though they remain blind spots, is what feels to me like wisdom. The blind spots can be logical or emotional. The latter is what most of the LW regulars tend to forget or miss. Successfully combining logic and emotion probably gets you half-way to being wise. The next step is actually practicing it and internalizing it, so that one can see the problems and notice the good solutions as well as the bad ones, and being able to tell the difference without having to evaluate everything consciously and laboriously.

Tangentially related and potentially helpful: one time I wanted to see if I could create a psychometric test of wisdom, so I first wanted to collect a bunch of examples of cases that need wisdom. I did this by asking some people if they had problems in their life where they needed wisdom. Here were some responses:


Advise on money situation would be helpful when times are tough and your trying to manage all the current bills! Also been able to prioritise what to do and when to do it! Another thing could be advise on real life situations for example if you find something out about somebody and you didn’t no weather to tell them or not a bit of advise would be good


I am currently in a job role that I dislike. I am remote working from home and am isolated. The only colleague who provided support to me has just handed in her notice. The manager is unapproachable to I am looking for another job too. The problem is that in the last six months, 8 other people have also handed their notices in which makes me feel guilty about leaving. I have been with the company for a year but in this role for 5 months. I'm not sure what to do but don't think that i can stay there for much longer.


My biggest problem is that my life is split between my passion and my day job, with my day job winning, because it has a required number of hours. My passion is writing. I tried years ago to make a living at creative writing. I had quite a few novels published including one very successful novel which reached #2 in its genre. When I saw how little money I made on it, I switched my energy to becoming a computer programmer, something I had no experience in. Until very recently, it took every bit of my energy that I didn't spend on my family ( I have one child of age 6). I recently started writing again, and several months later a movie director happened to find one of my novels and asked if I'd be interested in writing the screenplay. The problem is that this is happening very slowly because I'm having to do it around my job. I think I could have a career as a creative writer now, because he's interested in making multiple books into movies. But this is a slow process and I can't just quit my well-paying day job. Still, I don't think I can be a computer programmer forever, as I find it very stressful. I also can't write for all my spare time, because I spend a lot of time with my family. Two days a week and saturdays, it's just the two of us, in fact, as that's when my wife works.


How to navigate life as a single mum who has been married for twenty years and within the last three years there has been a progressive decline in how we feel about each other, resulting in one person no longer wanting to be in the marriage. This news has been taken very badly by the affected spouse who is doing everything they can to save things, but the other spouse has decided time is up.

My brother in law is buyllying my in-laws, taking over their bank account and make demands that they do things that he will benefit from leaving my husband many problems as a result. We are at a loss of what to do and how we can protect my inlaws and try and help them. My brother in law is aggressive and abusive and has acused us of trying to defraud them and is limiting what we can do for them. My brother in law has resented my husband since the day he was born and has recently got divorced and is bitter about having to pay his ex-wife out, He & his ex-wife led an extravagant lifestyle, numourous holidays of lifetime, weekends away, meals out. He resents the fact that we are still married and that we are not penniless. We think he is driving my inlaws into an early grave


I wold like advice as to whether I should stay with my partner who is financially irresponsible, takes me for granted and for whom I have no feelings. However we have two children and live in an expensive area and it would be very difficult to split emotionally and financially. It would feel very selfish for me to do this. But I also think we are modelling a terrible relationship and I'm sure they know that we are broken.


I work 40 hours a week with and distressed baby who doesn't like me leaving. i have to go o work to earn money to earn money for bills and my family but at 7 month she doesn't understand that and it is very distressing to watch her get upset over me leaving and it is heartbreaking. I do not want to keep leaving her like this. What can I do to help solve this issue?


I am currently struggling with an ongoing chronic illness which is currently under investigation and yet to be diagnosed. During this time, I have had a significant amount of time off of work and have recently after three months, returned. I am now struggling yet again with the illness after only being back at work for one week.

I am stuck between the decision of whether to push through and work through my pain, or sign off again. The decision is hard because I should listen to what my body is telling me, however, being signed off and stuck at home caused me to become depressed and I am unsure of whether it'll send me back into depression if I stay home again.


I would like advice on how to move forward with my life. I had a career in the military in my younger days which I grew dissatisfied with and ended up leaving to raise a family. Due to my husband's work which involved a lot of shift work, travelling and our family unit living away from extended family plus the cost of childcare, it made sense for me to remain a stay at home Mum. A decade later our situation remains the same but now my youngest is starting school so it's time I can start working again.

However, I feel like I've left it too late (I'm almost 39) to have a meaningful career. I'm not qualified in anything useful, I have a huge experience gap and I don't even know what I would want to do; I just want to feel useful and good at something. I always thought I wanted a creative career so at one point I started an art and design course with the intention of doing a degree but realised after a year that I no longer have the passion for drawing and painting. I enjoy helping people but don't think I possess the confidence or people skills to really be good at or enjoy something like nursing or social work. I feel almost paralysed by my inability to see any path to take and I'm terrified that I'm gonna end up working in fast food or retail until I retire (done both before and hated them!)


the wisdom words i need are how to assist my eldest son who now is 25, he has really bad anxiety and depression and has basically lived in his bedroom for about 9 years, he cannot face anybody he doesn't know and sometimes even family, I'm his connection to the outside world and do most things for him, i need someone to point me in the right direction to help deal with this and to find him the right help and the fact do i get him help as he refuses and says he's just waiting to die which it very heart breaking for me and seriously playing on my mental health because as a mother i feel like I've failed him so much, obviously a naïve immediate decision wont and don't work as he's no better but maybe a wise person could point me in the right direction to get the help he needs

For some food for thought on this question, see:

from the LessWrong Notes on Virtues sequence.