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Less Wrong is all about rationality, which is a vital component of our thinking, but there is evidence to suspect our brains have useful functions beyond this. For example, the placebo and nocebo effects, which demonstrate the physical results of our positive or negative beliefs. Because of this it is necessary to do double blind trials on medicines, so that not even the person administering the treatment knows who is receiving the trial drug and who is getting the sugar pill. There is the "white coat effect" which causes raised blood pressure due to being in a medical setting. These products of our minds are not rational, but they may be useful, and we know very little about how to harness them for our benefit. 

Other arational aspects of our lives involve our nighttime dreams and maybe our daydreams too. People playing competitive sports are encouraged to visualize themselves winning. Entrepreneurs are told to visualize the steps they need to take to accomplish their goals, as well as any obstacles they may encounter, so as to have a prepared response. 

Our desire for rationality is wonderful and useful; perhaps more so for those engaged in working with programming computers in all their forms, or with other severely rational careers such as economics, physics or chemistry. However, if we follow rationality to the exclusion of all else, we may be in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. 

I have never been into taking recreational drugs, because I view my brain as being a delicate instrument of great value to me, and I don't want to do anything which might damage it. During my misspent youth, I was more inclined to read the books of Robert Anton Wilson, whose view was "Reality is what you make of it". He suggested several experiments to show that our minds our programmed to look for patterns. This leads people to notice coincidences and perhaps assign meaning to them, resulting in superstitions.

Superstition and rationality are opposite ends of a spectrum of brain functions. Somewhere in the middle lies creative visualization. If you have never tried this, you might be surprised at the ways in which it can be useful. 

Suppose you have a mathematical problem which is hard to solve. You could imagine yourself in a forest. It is important to imagine the scene with all your senses, hearing the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, noting the signs which tell you which time of the day and which season it is, feeling the rough bark of the trees, and the curious not-warm-not-cold sensation of touching it. Then when you are deeply focused, explore your surroundings until you find the hidden home. Notice the details - does it have a garden? Is there a gate? What color is the front door? Knock on the door, open it and walk inside. Feel free to look around. Somewhere in here is the home of the mathematical genius who will help to solve your problem. When you find him, tell him all about what you are working on, and what the difficulty is. Feel free to ask him questions. He may ask you questions: answer them. He may want to show you items he has (you could use his home as part of a memory palace if you like), or give you a gift. You can return whenever you like to be with someone who understands you completely, and who will help you with remembering things for exams, with reasoning skills, and with teasing out what you don't know that you know.

If you have always backed away from all but the most rational of thinking techniques, you may find some of the untried functions of your brain surprising. You don't get to choose what the Mathematician's home is like - it just appears and may be unexpected in nature. The trees in your forest are the same. You don't get to choose the season - there may be snow or bluebells or scrunchy leaves underfoot. It just happens. Practice is necessary, as with any skill, in order to become fully proficient at this.

So is this a feature of rational thinking, or is it irrational? To me it would be irrational to use some functions of mind, such as reason, memory or the avoidance of cognitive errors, but to ignore others. 

Some other useful functions of our minds include suggestion, habit and reflexes. Do we ignore these because they are less rational? What is the less wrong attitude towards occasional moments of vision or insight? Can we conjure up a Muse, or an invisible friend, and still be rational? Can rationality include eccentricity? Can it include any form of spirituality? 

I hope your posts will produce further insights into some of these issues, and look forward to them very much.


Ah, maybe I am too new for more than one vote, because holding down doesn't do it.


A lesson for humans as the population continues to increase.


Thank you for being so kind. I want to give 2 karma, but it won't let me. 


Your graph also illustrates perfectly why I find this an example of semistable equilibrium as explained in this article. It even looks like a cliff face, although it is inverted. There is a point at which the lag phase changes and becomes the exponential phase. As long as the correct action is taken  before this point, the exponential phase can be avoided; e.g. take the petri dish out of the incubator and put bleach in it. This would be equivalent to the chicken player stopping his car before the cliff edge.


 1. Drilling a hole in glass. I was at a class learning glass fusing (just for fun) and we each had to drill a hole in float glass. The drill is a vertical bit, about 3mm diameter, and coated with an abrasive. 8 of the 9 of us in the class followed the instructions as to the angle at which to hold the glass, and to cool it with water frequently. We all cut neat little holes. The 9th person was in a hurry, and at the moment the drill broke through the surface of his piece of glass, it caught and violently span out of control, shattering.

2. This idea of a threshold point reminds me of what happens with exponential growth. In the early stages of the Covid outbreak, our Government were blithely aiming for "herd immunity" - after all, the graphs showed a gradual rise in cases, so everything must be okay, right? It took some serious educating to get them to see the nature of exponential growth, and that a disaster was waiting to happen. Now they seem to be taking the same view with the threat of inflation. Any exponential growth starts off slow and steady, like semistable equilibrium, but reaches the point where it is out of control if there is no intervention.

3. When I was reading this article, the image of a set of traffic lights came into my mind. On one side, you have a red light, with traffic approaching slowly and carefully. On the other is a steadily moving stream of traffic taking its turn to move ahead. In the middle somewhere is a point of equilibrium, where traffic waiting to turn right (I am in the UK; it would be left most other places) is paused in the middle of the road, having passed the red light, but being held up by the oncoming traffic. If one of these vehicles fails to obey the rules of the road, all kinds of chaos and mayhem could occur, with vehicles and other objects being flung and damaged unpredictably.