### Author Topic: what is rationality?  (Read 2138 times)

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#### screwtape

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##### what is rationality?
« on: August 09, 2013, 07:57:54 AM »
Recently new member Danohk, a self proclaimed literalist xian, said, "I am a man of reason."[1]  I giggled about that for a little while and then asked him what that meant to him.  What is a man of reason?  I do not believe he answer that question.  At least, if he did, I missed it.

But it made me think about what that meant.  If I call my self a rationalist, what specifically does that mean?  I had some vague feelings what that meant but no satisfactory answer.  So, being a rationalist[2], I looked into it more.

According to the Center for Applied Rationality, it is succinctly put as: Rationality = Logic + Probability Theory + Rational Choice Theory[3]  That didn't quite do it for me.  Or at least, I did not know what all those things meant.  I looked to their subsidiary site, Less Wrong.   There it said, "rationality is the study of general methods for good decision-making, especially where the decision is hard to get right."[4]  Further down it says "Rationality is also the art of how to systematically come to know what is true. "  Oh, heck yes.  That is it.  While it is still more general, that is the core of it.  How to know what is true.

That page had more specifics on what techniques were used so that it could be systematic.  It had links to whole pages of instruction.  It talked about the built-in brain processes that hinder perfect rationality which are so prevalent they have names, like confirmation bias.

Here are 11 core principles of the rationalist:  http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ht/11_core_rationalist_skills/

There is a lot more at the site.  Check out the sequences, which I may have posted before.

 1 http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php/topic,25211.msg563689.html#msg563689 2 Har har har 3 http://rationality.org/rationality/ 4 http://lesswrong.com/lw/20p/what_is_rationality/
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#### ParkingPlaces

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2013, 08:43:29 AM »
Drats. An interesting conversation may be starting here and I have to take off for ten days. Hope you guys solve everything so I can read the thread and become rational when I return.

The list in the article seems to be a combination of good advise and self-help book gobbledygook. Well, it isn't that bad, but "know your own mind" and "analytic philosophy" seem a little naïve, especially since the former is something that is hard to do by yourself. You're not allowed to use your own feedback to become rational. I don't think.

Also, there are other factors in life that a person otherwise acting "rational" might be very bad at. Yesterday I stood in a long line at my very busy grocery store and watched a little old lady stand there and carefully watch to be sure that the price of every item was rung up right, and then, only after the total was rung up, did she start rummaging through her purse to find her checkbook, which she filled out like she was going to be graded for neatness and penmanship. Very slowly. She could otherwise be one of the ten most rational people in the world and have all the sensitivity of a rock. So being rational isn't an end-all condition that operates in a vacuum.

My view of rationality is currently far simpler than the list linked in the OP. But of course, since I haven't given the subject incredible amounts of thought, I'm probably not being very rational about my rationality. I tend to assume that since my ability to look at multiple sides of an issue seems far more developed than many I argue with that I am therefore rational. I don't do some of those things on the list, which means I am probably not rational. And I doubt being semi-rational is adequate.

This is a subject worthy of discussion. And as I wrote this I got an email telling me that I will have limited Internet where I am going to be for the next ten days, so perhaps I can continue this discussion after all.

Added: By the way, as I went to save the above article in my Instapaper account I realized it was from a blog on rationality, which may be a good source for discussion material. Here is the link to the blog: http://lesswrong.com

« Last Edit: August 09, 2013, 08:48:45 AM by ParkingPlaces »
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#### kin hell

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2013, 09:46:15 AM »
bm
"...but on a lighter note, demons were driven from a pig today in Gloucester."  Bill Bailey

all edits are for spelling or grammar unless specified otherwise

#### shnozzola

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2013, 11:07:11 AM »
Interesting tangent from the above sites (maybe this was posted before - play rock paper scissors with a computer that looks for either your patterns, or a compiled collection of human patterns:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html?_r=1&

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#### LoriPinkAngel

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2013, 11:17:19 AM »
Interesting tangent from the above sites (maybe this was posted before - play rock paper scissors with a computer that looks for either your patterns, or a compiled collection of human patterns:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html?_r=1&

I played.  I am apparently the devil.  I quit at 6 wins, 6 ties, 6 losses.
It doesn't make sense to let go of something you've had for so long.  But it also doesn't make sense to hold on when there's actually nothing there.

#### One Above All

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2013, 11:20:26 AM »
Interesting tangent from the above sites (maybe this was posted before - play rock paper scissors with a computer that looks for either your patterns, or a compiled collection of human patterns:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html?_r=1&

I tried that for a few rounds and learned what the computer usually chooses when we both tie, allowing me to win every match but one after a tie.
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#### jynnan tonnix

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2013, 08:33:32 PM »
I'm playing this more or less at random after a couple of gin & tonics, but quit after 6 wins, 6 losses and 8 ties. So far, at least I'm keeping the computer marginally on its little toes, but I know that if I keep it up any longer it will cotton on to patterns I don't even know I'm making yet.

#### Willie

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2013, 05:57:55 PM »
That's when you pull out the dice.

#### Graybeard

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2013, 08:09:52 PM »
From the Oxford English Dictionary (on-line, subscription only):

Quote
rationality, n.
Forms:  15–16 rationalitie, 15– rationality.
Etymology:  < post-classical Latin rationalitas faculty of reasoning (early 3rd cent. in Tertullian), property of being rational (1267 in a British source) < classical Latin rati?n?lis rational adj. + -t?s

2. a. The quality or condition of possessing reason; the ability to exercise reason.
1628   T. Spencer Art of Logick 49   Rationalitie is the intrinsecall part of man.
[…]
1964   M. McLuhan Understanding Media (1967) i. vi. 71   This image of a unified ratio among the senses was long held to be the mark of our rationality and may in the computer age become so again.

3. a. The fact or condition of being based on, or in accordance with, reason or rationalism.

1908   Jrnl. Abnormal Psychol. 3 166   Any act..is immediately justified by distorting the mental processes concerned and providing a false explanation that has a plausible ring of rationality.

So we now need to know what rational means OED

Quote
3. a. Based on or derived from reason or reasoning, esp. as opposed to emotion, intuition, instinct, etc.
1531   T. Elyot Bk. named Gouernour iii. xxv. sig. hvv,   That parte of phisike called rationall, wherby is declared the faculties or powers of the body, the causis, accidentes, and tokens of sikenessis.
[…]
1990   A. S. Byatt Possession xvii. 299   The poet went to the seances in a spirit of rational enquiry, rather than with any predisposition to believe what he saw.

I suppose that problem is that what might seem to be rational to one person or at one time may not seem rational to or at another. Rationality is only vaguely related to accuracy, so I don’t think that this prevents any idea from being described as rational as long as the available information, devoid of emotion, assumption, or personal bias, is considered.

A decision can be rational even if it results in disaster or is simply wrong: In the past, we had the idea that malaria was cause by “bad air”. This was entirely rational: Swamps and stagnant pools give off smells; in areas where this happens there is malaria. Moving to the present, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” is just another way of saying, “To me, when I considered it, it seemed perfectly rational. [How was I to know it was loaded?]”

Irrationality would indicate that the information was present and available but ignored in whole or in part and/or emotion, assumption, or personal bias played a part and, in that half-light, a decision was made.

Rationality acts like syllogisms: as long as the premises are accepted as true and without emotion, assumption, or personal bias, then the conclusion is rational. The problem is that people tend to think a syllogism leads to an inevitable truth when it has premises that start with “if …” or an assumption.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2013, 08:11:36 PM by Graybeard »
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#### ParkingPlaces

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##### Re: what is rationality?
« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2013, 09:38:51 PM »
I was all ready to get into a discussion about rationality, but since I knew I would be spending ten days in a location with sucky Internet, I got an Audible book to listen to. Called "What It Is Like To Go To War", by Karl Marlantes, I now realize that the human creature is far too complex and too hidden from ourselves to ever manage actual rationality over any extended period of time.

(It is not a war book. It is a book about how war effects individuals who participate and society and life in general. And it includes a rather scathing overview of human frailties, all of which I have no trouble finding in myself. Which is both disconcerting and enlightening.)

I highly recommend the book, but it will be rough on you if you read it, whether you've been to war or not, because it exposes just how complicated and differentiated and inconsistent each of us is. At some point early in the book he gets asked by a learned person the question "You don't think you're just one person, do you?" (I'm paraphrasing. It's hard to find the exact wording in an audio book). Anyway, it turns out that each of us is far more complex than I ever imagined, and I suspect that any rationality that we manage to muster is just temporary.

When I get back to my ordinary and slow but dependable Internet next week I might rejoin this conversation and try to help get it going again. Right now I'm too busy getting my mind blown.
What I lack in sophistication I make up for with other shortcomings.