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What is our evidence that Bayesian Rationality makes people's lives significantly better?

by Bae's Theorem 1 min read28th Jul 201919 comments


Anecdotally, it has streamlined my thinking process exponentially, and made me more self-aware. However, most proponents of most belief systems will make similar claims.

Our general techniques of using science to come to truth is inarguably valuable, but that's not unique to us.

What evidence can I show to a non-Rationalist that our particular movement (i.e. our particular techniques for overcoming biases, studying decision theory, applying Bayesianism, learning CBT techniques, etc.) is valuable for making their lives significantly better?

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First of all, the community around LW2.0 can only be loosely associated to a movement: I don't think there's anyone that explicitly endorses *every* technique or theory appeared here. LW is not CFAR, is not the Alignment forum, etc. So I would caution against enticing someone into LW by saying that the community supports this or that technique.

The main advantage of rationality, in its present stage, is defensive: if you're aspiring to be rational, you wouldn't waste time attending religious gatherings that you despise; you wouldn't waste money buying ineffective treatments (sugar pills, crystals, etc.); you wouldn't waste resources following people that mistake fiction for facts. At the moment, rationality is just a very good filter for every product, knowledge and praxis that society presents to you (hint: 99% of those things is crap).

On the other hand, what you can or should do with all the resources you're not wasting, is something rationality cannot answer in full today. Metaethics and akrasia are, after all, the greatest unsolved problems of our community.

There were notorious attempts (e.g. Torture vs Dust specks or the Basilisk), but nothing has emerged with the clarity and effectiveness of Bayesian reasoning. Effective Altruism and MIRI are perhaps the most famous examples of trying to solve the most pressing problems. A definitive framework though still eludes us.

There is no obvious evidence laying around. I am unconvinced. Promising that bayesian rationality will better your life on the expectation woudl be anunfounded promise.

Take mathematics. I think mathematics is valuable and mathematical results are cool. And you can be a succesfull mathematician. But I would not say that you will be succesfull for choosing mathematics over other fields. You need to have some indiviudal traits to make mathematics a good fit for you. But it is not an automatic win button for all psychologies. Mathematics is far from "fictional" but it doesn't raise to the bar of autorecommend.

Rationality can have very potent results that others have trouble delivering. But there are some hazards and some requirements. Having low emotional tolerance for reflection would be very hard to live with. You are in danger of being part of a minority and your relevance to the population at large can be questionable or small or happen via very particular channels.

I would totally give a "ask your doctor whether rationality is right for you" but not "mortage your house to order yours today"