The belief that “rationalists should win” is widely held in the
rationalist community. So: does being a good rationalist actually help you win?
Certainly in some domains, like engineering and science, which focus on
quantification, systematization, and prediction. There, having a hyper-rational
mindset is clearly an advantage. As for winning at life, which I will take that
to mean leading to greater success in survival, evolution, and human
flourishing, I don’t think rationality helps very much.
The rationalist doctrine always favors quantification and optimization over
intuition. From a rationalist perspective, humans are buggy “computers made of
meat”. We are full of cognitive biases that cloud our judgement, and
cause us to do reliably poorly on simple tasks related to
probability. So even if you don’t really know what probability to assign, it’s
better to “put a number on it” and then “shut up and
The problem with the above approach lies with the words “systematic” and
“predictable”. Herb Simon’s idea of Bounded Rationality, suggests that
our human ability to be rational, to systematize and predict is inherently
limited. These limitations may come from our limited brains, but may also be
fundamental in nature. Chaos theory makes it really difficult for even the most
advanced computers to predict even simple systems, such as the position of the
double pendulum after a small amount of time.
The world is far more complicated than one pendulum attached to another.
Insisting on making every decision in life based on a series of sound logical
steps, one quickly becomes paralyzed by the
complexity of myriad tiny choices. Gerd Gigerenzer’s ecological
rationality suggests that many things that appear illogical are actually
done for good reasons, ultimately leading to good outcomes. This idea is
directly at odds with the rational propensity for first knowing what is true
(epistemic rationality), and then making decisions in a series of logical steps.
Instead of being dogmatic about rationality, we should be better
consequentialists. Consider outcomes. Are rationalists more satisfied with their
lives than non-rationalists? Are they more productive? Do they have fewer
regrets later in life? Do they have better relationships? Make more money? Have
happier children? Impact their domains of knowledge more effectively?
It is hard to answer the above questions definitively, but suppose we
had solid data, and it was clear that, Buddhists were more relaxed, Protestants
more productive, Amish happier, and Singularitarians more innovative than other
groups. Imagine we had a sense of expected consequences of being an adherent to
each type of lifestyle. Imagine further that you could take a personality test
and see how likely you would be to benefit from each. Then the rational thing to
do would be to choose one of the irrational doctrines to follow based on
expected outcomes if you were an adherent.
Of course, you want to remain open to changing your mind, so allow yourself to
indulge fully your chosen beliefs for a while. At the top of every year, wake up
as late as your doctrine allows and nurse your hangover, unless your beliefs
prevented you from drinking the night before. If your beliefs favors ice baths,
partake in the polar bear plunge. Then take a moment to re-evaluate your
via : Boris Smus