[Backported] Why I don’t care about rationality

[Backported from a Facebook post I wrote on October 3rd, 2013. I agree with it mostly, although maybe not in nuance. I might value rationality in and of itself at this point, I’m not sure.]

Those who know me know that I spend a great deal of time thinking about how best to think and act – “thinking and decision-making skills”, I call it. In fact, I’m an avid member of a global community of people who care about these skills, I recently delivered public lectures on the topic, and I continue to volunteer in promotion of them.

The term typically used for these thinking and decision-making skills is ‘rationality’. It’s a term which makes sense to use, but it gets caught up with various connotations and mischaracterisations such that I prefer to avoid it.

Still, the point of this post is to say the following:

I don’t care about rationality.

To me, rationality and being rational has no value in and of itself. “Rationality” is just a fancy name for the thinking and acting that is most likely to result in me getting what I actually care about.

I care about a lot of things. I care about the elimination of suffering, about pleasure, knowledge, art, truth, progress of the human race, my friends and family, and many, many other good things. And I care about them so much that I take my caring about them very seriously. Rationality, however, is not on that list. It is a mere tool for getting the things I care about intrinsically.

The following is the line of reasoning I follow:

P1: I care about things.
P2: If you care about things, you should act and think in the ways which are mostly likely to achieve/get/protect them.
P3: To act and think in the ways mostly likely to get what you care about, you have to figure out which ways those are and train yourself to do them.
C: I spend time trying to figure out how I should act and think to get what I care about, and training myself to actually to do that, so that I can actually get the things I care about.

Unfortunately, the ways best suited to achieving the things I care about often aren’t obvious and often don’t come naturally – things like not procrastinating and not ignoring evidence against things I like believing. So it ends up taking quite a lot of effort to do the things which are most likely to get me what I want. But I want them a lot, so I put in that effort.

And I dream of a world where everyone puts in the effort to figure out how to best get what they want and value and care about, and then takes the right action to get it. In that world, there is no hunger, there is no disease, no poverty, no ignorance, no death. We have acted wisely, effectively, rationally, and eradicated them. Instead we enjoy happiness, fun, friendship, challenges, stimulation, knowledge, love, and all other good things.

That is why you hear me talk about thinking and decision-making skills – about rationality – so damn much.

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