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ciphergoth comments on Spreading the word? - Less Wrong

5 Post author: ciphergoth 19 April 2009 07:25PM

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Comment author: ciphergoth 19 April 2009 08:45:33PM *  13 points [-]

I'll have a go at this. I don't think I'm in a tiny minority in anything I say here, but I'm not hugely confident of my answers; that's one reason I'm setting them out explicitly.

  • There is a word, or rather, there's a programme
  • the word is that there's such a thing as rationality (epistemic and instrumental)
  • it is amenable to mathematical modelling
  • but it is different in important systematic ways from our natural reasoning capacity (biases)
  • since that is the result of natural selection, not design
  • science can tell us a lot about these biases
  • we can rationally correct for these biases, by understanding the model and the psychology
  • the skill of making these corrections is communicable
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky has written a lot of essays that are helpful in this task
  • greater rationality has the potential to ameliorate not only all sorts of harm and suffering, but also existential risk
  • so it's worth trying to talk to people who might be receptive to these ideas
  • and trying to craft materials that will help bring people on board
  • increasing world rationality is a subgoal of other programs for participants here, including one important one that cannot be named.

Where it goes from there is more controversial. I can imagine us going down a road in which we create organisations with paid staff who push for rationalism to be taught in schools and universities; others have discussed the idea of formal rationalism courses ("dojos") that we could join ourselves and encourage others to join. Or, we could decide that informal word-of-mouth combined with making materials available online is the best way forward.

I mention Eliezer's essays specifically, which might be controversial. Here and on Overcoming Bias, there is a lot of excellent writing about rationality, but it seems to me that Eliezer is the only one who is explicitly trying to develop a complete and coherent programme for advancing the art, and though we get a lot out of all the authors, it's his writings that are actually bringing us together around a programme here. This of course can and must change if the programme is to succeed; I wanted to say it explicitly because it feels like a bit of an elephant in the room otherwise.

Some people are very skeptical about the very idea of spreading the word, but it seems to me like one of the more plausible ideas I've heard for saving the world, so I'm surprised more folk aren't for it.

Comment author: byrnema 27 April 2009 02:52:18AM 0 points [-]

for rationalism to be taught in schools and universities

Immediately, rational ideas could be inserted into the curriculum as part of a "critical thinking" course, with a chapter on identifying biases, etc.