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Tell Your Rationalist Origin Story

How strange.. I thought the same as well. It is curious to find my brethren, when I have so long felt alone in this.

Tell Your Rationalist Origin Story

I grew up in a strict Christian household. I did not seriously question the way I was raised until about 12-13, when I started experiencing depression. I thought something was wrong with me since I was not able to fit in with society, and so I became a frequenter of the self-help section of libraries and bookstores.

My senior year, I journaled that my life goal was to see things objectively, separate from myself, because I realized that seeing things through a faulty lens was what was causing me to suffer. I did not know how to, though.

I did not know that Rationality was the method I was seeking until four years ago, when I was in my second year of university.

In my second year of university, I fell in love with my studies, for I had found something I was passionate about: biblical Hebrew and translation. Even though I was not a Christian anymore, I recognized that the Bible is one of the most important books of Western Civilization, and so I wanted to read it in its original language (both biblical Hebrew for the Hebrew Bible and Koine Greek for the New Testament), since translation is just interpretation. I loved studying this so much that I thought I would go to grad school for it. I was a hard-working student, taking more classes than anyone else I knew, even having to request special permission to do so, and working a part-time job at the same time. I quietly found it amusing when others would complain that they didn't have time to do their schoolwork.

It was around this time that I journaled that I realized for the first time that I was unconscious. I was so depressed at the time that I knew I had to do something to change, but what that something was, I did not know. I had already made a calendar of my life plans. Graduate university. Attend grad or law school. Write some books maybe. Get married. Have kids. Is not that what one does? Is there any other option?

Two weeks after having journaled the above, my friend and I met a brilliant autodidact at the donut shop. I had pre-judged him as an ordinary military man, and I lacked interest in his and my friend's discussion of philosophy (my friend was a philosophy major). I do remember feeling embarrassed when my friend said that this man reminded her of Nietzsche, for I thought: “Geez, I only took one class and I know that this guy’s philosophy is very different from Nietzsche’s.” I felt embarrassed, because I thought that she was making our university education look really bad, and I (though I did not realize it at the time) wanted to defend the university system, since this man told us that the university system was a joke. I moved to another table to study French, because I did not care about their conversation, and I wanted to focus on my studies instead. I had taken only one class in philosophy, and it did not interest me. I found it confusing, and thought it something for people smarter than myself.

They moved over to my table, for some reason that I cannot remember. I continued to study French while they spoke. But then the man mentioned something about the Bible, which caught my interest, since I was studying biblical Hebrew. We got into an argument about the truth of some fact, and he ended up being correct. We then started talking about Kabbalah and esoteric interpretations of the Bible, because I was really into that at the time. He said:

“Do yourself a favor. Study rationality instead. Mysticism will get you nowhere, if you lack method. Understand this: mysticism provides conclusions without method, the method of ratiocination provides the method for obtaining accurate conclusions. How can you know whether the conclusions received from mysticism are valid or invalid, if you lack method of discernment? Western philosophy provides the method, Eastern philosophy provides the conclusions.”

He then referred me to John Stuart Mill’s A System of Logic. We went through the first couple of pages together very slowly, and he helped me to understand. We spent the whole night talking. He gave me his copy of the book, which I wrapped in protective covering, and carried around with me everywhere thereafter, although it was heavy, as though it were my Bible. I copied out the definition of almost every word in it. I still have the document of that. I started doing this to important books that I could not initially understand. I called them “treatments” of books, and I later learned that they are similar to medieval glosses.

The day after I met him, even on no sleep, I spent the entire day in the library, copying out the Oxford English Dictionary (foolish, now that I reflect, but perhaps a necessary unnecessary step), and researching all the concepts he had introduced me to. I was so excited; I felt like I was embarking on a great journey; this was the opportunity I had been waiting for, the opportunity to begin living. That was the first day I neglected my schoolwork at university. Even just after a brief introduction to Logic, my classes started becoming unbearable. French was the only class that was OK to me, because it was a language class. But I was taking a class on the American Revolution, in which class we were quizzed on our teacher’s opinion about the founders being exploitative capitalists, and my suffering increased exponentially. I knew that I could not go on existing the same way I had before I had begun my study of logic. I started plotting dropping out of university.

Right after I began plotting, my summer classes ended, and I went to Europe and then to an archaeological dig in Israel, since it had already been planned. I did not enjoy my travels as much as I probably would have before. I was still fascinated by all the historical sites, and the beautiful landscapes, but being around people was becoming more and more unbearable, as they became more and more predictable, and I just wanted to return to my studies and solitude. Whereas before, I used to love talking to, and was even unusually trustful of people, particularly strangers, which could have gotten me into some serious danger, but, as things have turned out, they did not.

I got back to the States, cancelled my housing contract (pissing off my housemates in the process) because I wanted to be financially independent from my parents who were paying for my rent, dropped out, and started sleeping in the woods. I lost almost all of my “friends” at this time, who thought I had joined a cult, or that I wanted strength so much that I wouldn't be fun anymore, or that I was having an "identity crisis."

Two years after devoting myself to the self-study of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric (giving myself the Trivium education which I wished I would have gotten in my earlier years), I directed my attention to Sir Bacon's inductive/experimental method, realizing that Logic was not enough- for logic concerns itself primarily with the evaluation of propositions as a whole, and does not provide method of discernment as to whether the Names of the Subject/Predicate in the propositions are indeed based in reality. My most recent development has been, a couple of weeks ago, stumbling across LessWrong and HPMOR, and it was much needed. I am with much gratitude towards Mr. Yudkowsky, and the LessWrong community.

Thus has begun my journey.