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Dave's Mostly Tinkering, Occasionally Reporting

Yes, I Strive To Be Rational. No, That Doesn’t Mean I Want To Be A Robot.

in Musings · 1 minute read

I recently came across a definition of Rationality that I really enjoy, identify with, and strive for. It was one of those moments when something clicked in my mind. I became explicitly aware of a belief I implicitly carried with me.

Many people think of being rational as similar to being a “robot”. Far from it, being rational is about doing the best we can with what we’ve got. I’ll stop here and let Eliezer Yudkowsky, author of Rationality: From AI to Zombies, take over.

In his book, he writes:

In a Hollywood movie, being “rational” usually means that you’re a stern, hyperintellectual stoic. Think Spock from Star Trek , who “rationally” suppresses his emotions, “rationally” refuses to rely on intuitions or impulses, and is easily dumbfounded and outmaneuvered upon encountering an erratic or “irrational” opponent.

There’s a completely different notion of “rationality” studied by mathematicians, psychologists, and social scientists. Roughly, it’s the idea of doing the best you can with what you’ve got. A rational person, no matter how out of their depth they are, forms the best beliefs they can with the evidence they’ve got. A rational person, no matter how terrible a situation they’re stuck in, makes the best choices they can to improve their odds of success.

Real-world rationality isn’t about ignoring your emotions and intuitions. For a human, rationality often means becoming more self-aware about your feelings, so you can factor them into your decisions.

What do you think of this definition? Did you have a similar one in mind? Or does this change your outlook on Rationality?


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Published on:   September 11, 2015
  • Cara V

    Your rationality is one of the key drivers of the awesome dynamic of our friendship! Talk to you Friday from Hyderabad. Love from your favourite irrational artist xx