All of Kouran's Comments + Replies

Wow.... I'm surprised and glad. Thanks for being open to criticism.

That's what we've been saying. Not all of a person's thoughts are rational. And I certainly don't assert someone can easily think themselves out of being depressed or anxious.

My point there wasn't that people's thoughts aren't all rational, though I agree with that. My point was that not all human actions are tied to thoughts or intentions. There are habits, twitches, there is emotional momentum driving people to do things they'd never dream of and may regret for the rest of their lives. People often don't think in the first place.

Once that is establ

... (read more)

You may be right in that the argument comes more from a concern with how a broader public relates to the term of ´rational´ than how it is used in the mentioned disciplines.

On the other hand I feel that the broader public is relevant here. LessWrong isn´t that small a community and I suspect people have quite some emotional attachment to this place, as they use it as a guide to alter their thinking. By calling all things that are usefull in this way 'rational' I think you'd be confusing the term. It could lead to rationality turning into a generic substitute for 'good' or 'decent'. To me, that seems harmfull to an agenda of improving people's rational thinking.

Here I agree almost fully! My problem is that people aren't fully rational beings. That some of the people might want to take lessons on some level but don't can't be attributed only to their thoughts, but to their emotional environment. A persons thoughts need to be mobilised into action for something to take part. Sometimes this is a point of a person needing more basic confidence, sometimes a person needs their thoughts mirrored at them and confirmed. As in, speaking with a friend who'll encourage them. Thinking alone isn't enough.

I admire the communi... (read more)

One level up, consider who does the focusing how. The goal may be to build a bridge, an tune an emotion, or correct the thinking in your own mind. One way of attaining that goal is through figuring out what interventions lead to what consequences, and finding a plan that wins.
That's what we've been saying. Not all of a person's thoughts are rational. And I certainly don't assert someone can easily think themselves out of being depressed or anxious. I think that the goals people set are socially constructed. Thus, the ends rationality seeks to achieve are socially constructed. Once that is established, what further insight is contained in the assertion that rationality itself is socially constructed? To put it slightly differently, I don't think mathematics is socially constructed, but it's pretty obvious to me that what we choose to add together is socially constructed.

I don't think so, since that would be a trivial property that doesn't indicate anything....

I think it would indicate that not every action is being thought over. That some things a person does which lead to the achievement of a goal may not have beent planned for or acknowledged. By calling all things that are usefull in this way 'rational' I think you'd be confusing the term. Making it into a generic substitute for 'good' or 'decent'. To me, that seems harmfull to an agenda of improving people's rational thinking.

.>, for there is no alternative ava... (read more)

I'm not in love with using the word "rationality" for what this community means by rationality. But (1) I can't come up with a better word, (2) there's no point in fighting to the death for a definition, and (3) thanks to the strength of various cognitive biases, it's quite hard to figure out how to be rational and worth the effort to try.

Talking about whether a state of affairs that doesn't involve any decisions is a rational state of affairs is confusing. People do talk this way sometimes, but I generally understand them to be saying that it is symptomatic of irrationality in whoever made the decisions that led to that state of affairs.

What do you mean? Whose irrationality? Isn't it more straightforward (it's there among the 'virtues of rationality' no?) to just not call things 'rational' if they do not involve thinking?

Incidentally, you've caused me to change my mind. []
It varies, and I might not even know. For example, if the arrangement of signs on a particular street intersection causes unnecessary traffic congestion, I might call it an irrational arrangement. In doing so I'd be presuming that whoever chose that arrangement intended to minimize traffic congestion, or at least asserting that they ought to have intended that. But I might have no idea who chose the arrangement. (I might also be wrong, but that's beside the point.) But that said, and speaking very roughly: irrationality on the part of the most proximal agent(s) who was (were) capable of making a different choice. Yes, it is. For example, what I just described above is a form of metonymy... describing the streetsign arrangement as irrational, when what I really mean is that some unspecified agent somewhere in the causal history of the streetsign was irrational. Metonymy is a common one among humans, and I find it entertaining, and in many cases efficient, and those are also virtues I endorse. But it isn't a straightforward form of communication, you're right. Incidentally, I suspect that most uses of 'rationality' on this site (as well as 'intelligence') could be replaced by 'optimization' without losing much content. Feel free to use the terms that best achieve your goals.
I don't think so, since that would be a trivial property that doesn't indicate anything, for there is no alternative available. Decisions can be made either correctly or not, and it's useful to be able to discern that, but the world is always what it actually is.
If there is no alternative, there doesn't seem to be a possibility of improvement. If improvement is impossible, what exactly are we worrying about?

Thanks for your quick replies. Yes we are agreed in those two points. I'm going to try something that may come off as a little crude, but here goes:

Point 1: If every act or process that helps me is to be called rational, then having a diëtician for a parent is rational. Point 2: The term rational implies involvement of the 'ratio', of thinking. Point 3: No rational thinking, or any thinking at all, is involved in acquiring one's parents. Even adaptive parents tend to acquire their child, not the other way around. Conclusion; Something is wrong with saying... (read more)

"Rationality/irrationality" in the sense used on LW is a property of someone's decisions or actions (including the way one forms beliefs). The concept doesn't apply to the helpful/unhelpful things not of that person's devising.
I'd prefer to reject point 2. Arguments from etymology are not particularly strong. We're using the term in a way that has been standard here since the site's inception, and that is in accordance with the standard usage in economics, game theory, and artificial intelligence.

Whether a dietitian-parents could help you achieve all kinds of goals. Generally you'd be likely to have good health, you're less likely to be obese. Healthy, well-fed people tend to be taller, a dietician could use diet changes to reduce acne problems and whatnot. It is generally accepted that healthy, tall, good-looking people have better chances at achieving all sorts of goals. Also, dieticians are relatively wealthy highly-educated people. A child of a dietician is a child of privilege, upper middle class!

Anyway, my point is exactly that nobody can c... (read more)

Ha, you caught me using loose language. At a certain level, instrumental rationality is a method of making better choices, so applying it where there doesn't appear to be a choice is not very coherent. Instrumental rationality doesn't have anything to say about whether you should like singing. But if want skill at singing, instrumental rationality suggests music lessons. As an empirical matter, I suggest there are lots of people who would like to be able to sing better who do not take music lessons for various reasons. We can divide those reasons into two patterns: (1) "I want something else more than singing skill and I lack the time/money/etc to do both," or (2) "Nothing material prevents me from taking singing lessons, but I do not because of anxiety/embarrassment/social norms." Again, I assert that a substantial number of people decide not to take singing lessons based solely on type 2 reasons. This community thinks that this pattern of behavior is sub-optimal and would like to figure out how to change it.
Yes, at this point we're just disputing definitions. But I think we're in agreement with all the relevant empirical facts; if you were able to chose your parents, then it would be rational to choose good ones. Also, one is not usually able to choose one's parents.
If I have a choice of whether to enjoy singing or not, and I've chosen to take singing lessons, I ought to choose to enjoy singing.

If 'effective' in the very loosest sense, is drawn into what is called rational, doesn't that confuse the term?

I mean, to my mind, having a diëtician for a parent ( leading to fortuitous fortitude which assist in the achievement of certain goals ) is not rational, because it is not something that is in any way tied to the 'ratio'. This thing that helps you achieve goals is simply convenient or a privilege, not rational at all.

If I have a choice of parents, and a dietician is the most useful parent to have for achieving my goals, then yes, choosing a dietician for a parent is a rational choice. Of course, most of us don't have a choice of parents. If I believe that children of dieticians do better at achieving their goals than anyone else, then choosing to become a dietician if I'm going to have children is a rational choice. (So, more complicatedly, is choosing not to have children if I'm not a dietician.) Of course, both of those are examples of decisions related to the state of affairs you describe. Talking about whether a state of affairs that doesn't involve any decisions is a rational state of affairs is confusing. People do talk this way sometimes, but I generally understand them to be saying that it is symptomatic of irrationality in whoever made the decisions that led to that state of affairs.
Assuming for the moment that having a dietitian for a parent really does help one achieve one's goals, yes it is rational, to the extent that it can be described as an act or process. That is, if you can influence what sorts of parents you have, then you should have a dietitian. Similarly, it would be rational for me to spend 20 minutes making a billion dollars, even though that's something I can't actually do.

By that definition you might say that, but that still leaves the problem I tend to adress, that rationality (and by the supplied definition also irrationality) is suscribe to people and actions where thinking quite likely did not take place or was not the deciding factor of what action came about in the end. It falsely divides human experience into 'rational' and 'erroneously rational/irrational'. Thinkin is nog all that goes on among humans.

Uncontroversial, as far as that goes.


Thanks for your reply! I'm not quite sure how usefull that second quote you sent is. But if I ever do find a genie, I'll be sure to ask it whether it pays attention to my volition, or even to make it my first wish that the genie pays attention to my volition when fulfilling my other wishes ;)

My point in the section you quoted at the end of your post was not that there is a standard of rationality that people are deviating from. Closer to my views is that a standard of rationality is created, which deviates from people.

Fburnaby, thank you for the long reply.

I'm replying to you now before reading your suggestions, I've not had the time so far. They're on my list but for now I'd like to adress what you reply either way.

The Joe Biden quote is very effective, and I agree with the general sentiment. But not with how that relates to questions of rationality. I tend to use rationality as any thinking at all. Illogical thinking is may be bad rationality, but it is still rationality. My objection to assuming rationality isn't that you shouldn't look at how these or those actions... (read more)

Hey Kouran, I'm having trouble figuring out whether we agree or disagree. So, you tell me this: and I agree that's an excellent assumption for the goal of doing good sociology (and several other explanatory pursuits). I think (hope!) it will become clearer to you as your read the things I linked you to that this attitude is both (1) a very good one to take in many many instances, and (2) not in conflict with the goal of becoming more rational. I snuck a key word by in that last sentence: assumption. When thinking about humans and societies, it's become a very common and useful assumption to say that they don't deliberate or make rational decisions; they're products of their environments and they interact with those environments. At LessWrong, we usually call this the "outside view" because we're viewing ourselves or others as though from the outside. Note that while this is a good way to look at the world, we also have real, first-hand experiences. I don't live my personal life as a bucket of atoms careening into other atoms, nor as an organism interacting with its environment; I live my day-to-day life as a person making decisions. These are three different non-wrong ways of conceptualizing myself. The last one, where I'm a person making decisions, is where the use of this notion of rationality that we're interested in comes along and we sometimes call this the "inside view". At those other levels of explanation, the concept of rationality truly doesn't make sense. I also can't resist adding that you point out very rightly that most people don't act on their thoughts and pursue their goals, opting instead to execute their social-biological programming. Many people here are genuinely interested in getting these two realms (goals and actions) to synch up and are doing some amazing theorizing as to how they can accomplish this goal.

Hello Thomblake,

Thanks for the welcome! But I really can't agree with your statement.

Irrationality, which I would for now define as all human action and awareness that isn't rational thinking or that doesn't follow a rationally defined course of action, is not a 'bug'; rather it's most of the features that make us up and allow our continued existence. They make up a much greater part of what we are than those things/ faculties or moments/situations that we might call rational. And most of these deserve more respect than being called bugs. Especcially in a... (read more)

Some of the disagreement is definitional. We define rationality as achieving your goals. Rationality should win []. Any act or [ETA: mental] process that helps with achieving goals is rational. There's a followup assertion in this community that believing true things helps achieving goals. Although not all people in history have believed that, it's hard to deny that human thinking patterns are not well calibrated for discovering and believing truth things. (Although they are better than anything else we've come across).
See What Do We Mean By "Rationality" []. Summary: "Epistemic rationality" is having beliefs that correspond to reality. "Instrumental rationality" is being able to actualize your values, or achieve your goals. Irrationality, then, is having beliefs that do not correspond to reality, or being unable to achieve your goals. And to the extent that humans are hard-wired to be likely irrational, that certainly is a bug that should be fixed.

Orthonormal, thank you for suggesting the Straw Vulcan talk to me. It was a fairly interesting talk I was encouraged to see rationality defined through various examples in a way that is useful, accepts emotionality and works with it. I did not myself have a Straw Vulcan view of rationality, far from it, but I do recognise a few of it's flawed features in rationalistic social theories.

However, even this speaker seemed to overstate people´s rationality. An example is given of teenagers doing dangerous things despite stating they consider the risks. The taki... (read more)

Consider this (and this [] related thread) from the genes' point of view. It may be worth having all of your carriers do risky things, if the few that die of them are more than made up for by the ones who survive and learn something from the experience (such as how to kill big fierce animals without dying). For a gene, there's nothing reckless about having your carriers act recklessly at a stage in their lives when their reproductive survival depends on learning how to do dangerous things.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 11y
It seems to be that there is a systematic bias in teenage thinking, especially of the male sex; many teenagers I know/have known in the past place a much higher weight on peers' opinions than on parents' opinions, and a considerably higher weight on 'coolness' than on 'safeness.' Cool actions are often either unsafe or disapproved of by the parents' generation. I've started to wonder whether there might be a good evolutionary reason for teenagers to act this way. After all, being liked and accepted by peers is more important to finding a mate than being accepted by the older generation. In an ancestral environment, young males' ability to confidently take risks (i.e. in hunting) would have been important to success, and thus a factor in attractiveness to girls. Depending on just how risky the 'cool' things to do are, and how tough the competition for mates, the boys who ignored their parents' warnings and took risks with their peer group might have had more children compared to those who were more cautious...and thus their actions would be instrumentally rational. If this hypothesis were true, the 'thinking' that leads modern teenagers to do dangerous things would be an implicit battle of popularity-vs-safety, with popularity usually winning because of an innate weighting. This is a testable, falsifiable hypothesis, if I can find some way of testing it.

Hello Less Wrong community, I am Kouran.

What follows may be a bit long, and maybe a little dramatic. I'm sorry if that is uncourteous, still I feel the following needs saying early on. Please bear with me.

I'm a recently be-bachelored sociologist from the Netherlands, am male and in my early twenties. I consider myself a jack of several trades – among them writing, drawing, cooking and some musical hobbies – but master of none. However, I do entertain the hope that the various interests and skills add up to something effective, to my becoming someone in a p... (read more)

It sounds like the Straw Vulcan talk might be relevant to some of your thoughts on rationality and emotion...

Bias [] Diamond in a box: --CEV [] You imply that there is a standard of rationality people are deviating from. Yes?
Hi Kouran, and welcome. Your critique of "rationalism" as you currently understand it is, I think, valid. The goal of LessWrong, as I understand it (though I'm no authority, I just read here sometimes), is to help people become more rational themselves. As thomblake has already pointed out, we tend to believe with you in the general irrationality of humans. We also believe that this is a sort of problem to be fixed. However, I also think you're being unfair to people who use the Rationality Assumption in economics, biology or elsewhere. You say that: That's not an assumption that the theory requires. The Rationality Assumption only requires us to interpret the actions of an agent in terms of how well it appears to help it fulfill its goals. It needn't be conscious of such "goals". This type of goal is usually referred to as a revealed preference []. Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias [], a blog that's quite related to LessWrong, also loves pointing out and discussing the particular problem that you've raised. He usually refers to it as the "Homo hypocritus hypothesis". You might enjoy reading some related entries on his blog. The gist of the distinction I'm trying to point to is actually pretty well-summarized by Joe Biden: It's my own humble opinion that economists occasionally make the naive jump from talking about revealed preferences to talking about "actual" preferences (whatever those may be). In such cases, I agree with you that a disposition toward "rationalism" could be dangerous. But again, that's not the accepted meaning of the word here. I also think it might be just as naive to take peoples' stated preferences (whether stated to themselves or others) to be their "actual" preferences. There have been attempts on LW to model the apparent conflict between the stated preferences and revealed preferences of agents, my favourite of which was "Conflicts Between Mental Subagents: Ex
That's just about right. Humans are massively irrational; but we tend to regard that as a bug and work to fix it in ourselves.