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HalFinney comments on Something to Protect - Less Wrong

52 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 January 2008 05:52PM

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Comment author: HalFinney 30 January 2008 08:05:30PM 2 points [-]

The success of science was and is because it is useful, and similarly for rationalism. But one of the critiques of rationalism and of the overcoming-bias program is that it is sometimes counterproductive. The unbiased tend to be unhappy and/or insane. If someone's goals are to be happy and successful in life, he does best not to be fully rational. Irrationality is the most useful policy if these are your goals.

Your argument suggests that this is true only because this is setting the goalposts too low. For someone who merely seeks happiness, yes, irrationality is in order. But if someone's goals are much higher - if lives are at stake, perhaps even the lives of all humanity, then irrationality no longer works best. In that case, he must follow a path of strict rationality as closely as possible, because the stakes are so high.

However it could be argued that this is not always the case, that high stakes may nevertheless require a degree of irrationality. Rationality is useful for getting at the truth; but irrationality may be useful in persuading and motivating others to help. Successful leaders are notoriously irrational, and if your project is big enough, leadership will be a necessary ingredient for success.

Perhaps a solution is to split one's efforts into two pieces: a rational part, which ruthlessly seeks the truth regardless of inhibitions and discomfort; and an irrational part, which takes the core results from rational analysis, dresses them up in attractive lies, and sells them enthusiastically to the larger world. In fact I would suggest that many successful enterprises have been built on a partnership with this structure: the creative genius who works behind the scenes, and the leader who is the public face of the endeavor and who excels at presentation. You might consider a similar arrangement for your own project.