Inspired by the call to rationalist poetry fans and informed by years of writing satire.

The Other Path

When you ask for truth and are offered illusion,

When senses deceive you and reasoning lies

I'll show you the path through the murky confusion,

Just follow and close your eyes.


On matters of fact there's no fact of the matter,

All moral and virtue are fashion and fad,

So dress in the creed that will fit you and flatter

No one can argue with that.


Some puzzles unyielding and mysteries ancient

No formula ever could hope to describe.

How proudly the scientist seeks explanations

How clearly in vain she strives.


Make cases like fortifications of metal,

No rival assertion shall ever go past.

Be carefree in choosing the side of the battle

But guard it until your last.


The sages declared that to know is to suffer,

Where wisdom is gained there is innocence lost

And learning is danger – best leave it to others,

Avoid it at any cost.


Some fools declare war on their very own nature

Their weapons are evidence, reason and math.

Don't offer compassion to those wretched creatures,

They've chosen the other path.

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Remember, you can't be wrong unless you take a position. Don't fall into that trap.

-- Scott Adams, Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook

I'm pretty sure that's Adams criticizing how management plays political games when it should be getting things done.

Yes, but there is a solid rationality lesson there: if you see yourself as owning a position, this may hamper you moving towards truth.

I think that those are two distinct problems: refusing to take a position (Crono) and refusing to reconsider an entrenched position (Vaniver). I wrote more about the latter, I think I've seen it happening more often to people around me. I especially find it staggering how little effort people spend on picking the opinion to defend vs. how much the expend on defending it.

It's not just about opinions that are worthwhile to have and defend for political reasons and tribe affiliation. My roommate for example will automatically pick the side against me in any argument just to be contrarian, even if it's just between us. Then, he will spend hours performing rationalization and confirmatory research until he has fully convinced himself of a position that he had no prior cause to favor (even I'm the dumbest person in the world, reversing my opinions can't be a truth-signal). Needless to say, after every exercise in this vein he congratulates himself on being extremely intelligent because he "fought well".


I feel like you could use this to make your roommate do research on things for you. Or are his standards of evidence really bad, in addition?

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I'm not sure if human beings are capable of reasoning about issues without taking positions on them. Without some sort of "bottom line" in our heads, brainstorming becomes very difficult. At least that's the case for me. So I don't think that the advice to avoid taking positions on ideas is helpful. I prefer the opposite approach: take many many many positions on ideas, have multiple sets of beliefs which you use to evaluate ideas with, even if those ideas have conflicts between them, and then weigh all the merits and disadvantages of the beliefs against each other. Committing to all ideas you can think of and committing to none of the ideas you can think of both avoid the problem of getting trapped in a flawed position, but I think the former is easier to do and lends itself better to creative thought and investigation, while the latter makes it difficult to cultivate curiosity.

Bravo! How should one read it? It could be made into a Tom Lehrer song...

Here's an alternate, steelmanned second-to-last verse: 'the wise recognise that to know is to suffer'/ 'where knowledge is gained, there is mystery lost'...

I think this poem is cute so I'm just putting it here.

Be greeted psychoneurotics!

For you see sensitivity in the insensitivity of the world,
uncertainty among the world's certainties.

For you often feel others as you feel yourselves.

For you feel the anxiety of the world, and
its bottomless narrowness and self-assurance.

For your phobia of washing your hands from the dirt of the world,
for your fear of being locked in the world’s limitations.
for your fear of the absurdity of existence.

For your subtlety in not telling others what you see in them.

For your awkwardness in dealing with practical things, and
for your practicalness in dealing with unknown things,
for your transcendental realism and lack of everyday realism,
for your exclusiveness and fear of losing close friends,
for your creativity and ecstasy,
for your maladjustment to that "which is" and adjustment to that which "ought to be",
for your great but unutilized abilities.

For the belated appreciation of the real value of your greatness
which never allows the appreciation of the greatness
of those who will come after you.

For your being treated instead of treating others,
for your heavenly power being forever pushed down by brutal force;
for that which is prescient, unsaid, infinite in you.

For the loneliness and strangeness of your ways.

Be greeted!

-- Dabrowski, K. (1972) Psychoneurosis is not an illness

I realize this is supposed to be satire, but I am not convinced that, taken at face value, this poem actually constitutes bad advice. If you have the kind of personality that would allow you to implement these instructions, chances are good that -- in our modern society, at least -- you'll live a happier life; though the world may be poorer for it.