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Rationality is winning - or is it?

-6 Post author: taw 07 May 2009 02:51PM

I feel a bit silly writing an post about connotations on a rationalist website, but I really love the quote "Rationality (is/is not) winning". I see a few different ways of interpreting it:

  • "Rationality is winning" - results are more important than following a particular ritual of cognition. If something doesn't work, abandon it no matter how "rational" is seems.
  • "Rationality is not winning" - exploration is much more fun than just mindlessly going toward some goal.
  • "Rationality is winning" - what matters is how good you are at reaching socially accepted criteria of "success" - I don't like this connotation at all.
  • And I can think of a few others...

I wonder, the way human brain works, is it common for there to be thoughts that are much better expressed with a short sentence full of ambiguous connotations, that by long and accurate explanations? Give me your favourite ambiguous quotes!

Comments (10)

Comment author: saturn 07 May 2009 06:14:51PM 5 points [-]

The intended meaning was that we shouldn't use decisionmaking procedures which are predictably self-defeating. That's it.

Incidentally, you have made a grievous mistake if you find yourself thinking "rationality is great, but what is it, really?"

Comment author: randallsquared 07 May 2009 08:33:49PM 2 points [-]

exploration is much more fun than just mindlessly going toward some goal.

Er, exploration is working toward a goal, too. Every action you can take is in service to a goal; the only way to (arguably) escape goals is not to act or think -- to be a vegetable.

Comment author: MrHen 07 May 2009 03:59:00PM 2 points [-]

Considering that there was a whole post designed to reduce the ambiguity of the phrase, I really see no purpose in messing around with that phrase by itself. Discussing the concept seems useful, but bickering over what a sentence could mean doesn't actually address the topic.

Semantics may be fun, but how useful is this?

Comment author: loqi 07 May 2009 06:57:17PM 1 point [-]

I wonder, the way human brain works, is it common for there to be thoughts that are much better expressed with a short sentence full of ambiguous connotations, that by long and accurate explanations?

No, unless by "better" you mean "more entertaining/artistic". An ambiguous statement might feel more meaningful by tripping so many associations at once, but pretty much by definition it contains less information than a less ambiguous counterpart.

That said, a statement like "rationality is winning" can usefully summarize larger concepts, but only once it's been contextually disambiguated. It's useless on its own.

Comment author: Drahflow 07 May 2009 03:36:35PM 1 point [-]

"Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo." Although the ambiguity is all in the syntax.

Actually, I disagree with some possible connotations of "better" here. It might be that many thoughts are most accurately expressed using ambiguous sentences, but that is probably because the thoughts are ambiguous as well (and I see that as pretty likely).

Example: "I'd like some icecream." seems quite like a typical thought. I have thought of that form as qualia, and they seem kind of useful. However, they are ambiguous all over the place.

  1. They omit a lot of (my) default assumptions: I'd like it now. I'd like it for eating. I'd like to consume it in company of some peers. I'd best like citron.
  2. They imply (but not state) some course of action.
  3. They imply (but not state) a request for other people around me to join in my pursuit for icecream.
  4. They signal (if uttered) a lot of stuff to the people around, e.g. relaxedness

But "better" also has the connotation of "optimal" in a utilitarian sense. And it might be that thoughts should best not be expressed in ambiguous terms, because that creates weird priming-effects which depend on your culture. If you think "I'd like some icecream" and your language lacks a proper distinction between icecream-type-A and icecream-type-B you are priming also for the wrong icecream type everytime you process that thought.

Now, one might come to the conclusion that you should just avoid verbalizing thoughts, but that will make communication difficult to say the least, as communication will in general involve passing categories of things. But maybe verbalizing a bit less internally might remove some of the cultural effects our respective languages bring.

Comment author: dclayh 07 May 2009 04:00:22PM 0 points [-]

I think you mean, "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

Comment author: orthonormal 08 May 2009 10:59:51PM 0 points [-]

Do they all? That seems rather dubious to me.

Comment author: abigailgem 09 May 2009 08:41:43AM 0 points [-]

"As above, so below". This is an explanation of Astrology. As above us the stars and planets move in their courses, so below, on this flat Earth, we follow our Destiny.

I do not believe in Astrology more than I believe the Earth is flat, but I love this sentence, expressing so much in so few words. It is my favourite such quote: beautifully and elegantly expressing an idea which is completely wrong. .

I work in an advice agency. We had an anonymous postcard, which read, "The otherbugger will get on your back if he can That is all the advice you ever need to give If he's on your back already it's TOO LATE!"

I find that both horrible and untrue, but it is elegantly expressed.

Comment author: knb 07 May 2009 03:52:17PM 0 points [-]

I suppose zen koans apply? They are intentionally ambiguous, because the important thing is the thought process used to determine the meaning, rather than any "grand wisdom" in the thought itself.