On Being Rational. 10 skills of a rational person.

A list of skills that I thought up today.  Ordered by which came to mind first, not by importance.
  1. Introspection.  Understand why you believe the things you do.  Understand why you act the way you do.
  2. Scholarship.  Stand on the shoulders of giants.  Scientists and philosophers have settled many issues, discovered many biases, created many de-biasing techniques.  You’ll do better to read academic sources than popular science sources.  I’m constantly surprised by what science knows about _how to think_ and how much of this people generally don’t know we know.
  3. American physicist Richard Feynman Português: ...

    American physicist Richard Feynman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Take joy in the merely real.  Internalize the concept that there doesn’t need to be mystical causes for things to be joyful and beautiful. “Nothing is ‘mere’.” –Richard Feynman

  4. Recognize rationalization.  Rationalization argues for a side already chosen.  As a rationalist you want to effectively pick a belief based upon evidence, you don’t want to find evidence to support your belief.
  5. Probabilistic universe.  You don’t know anything with 100% probability.  Visualize a little number between 0 and 1 floating next to every idea you hold dear.  This number represents the weight of the evidence that this idea represents reality.  Sometimes we have reasons to be _really_ confident that an idea represents reality, but that little number won’t ever reach 100%.  Where we most need to remember this is when ideas are controversial.  When others don’t think the idea is the best fit for the evidence.  If we don’t remember that we’re dealing with probabilities, it becomes too hard to update our beliefs on new incoming evidence.
  6. Fallible minds.  Recognize from your scholarship efforts in (2), that human minds are crappy kluges of systems and layers all intertwined with failure modes lying all over the place.
  7. Fix your opponents arguments. “If you’re interested in being on the right side of disputes, you

    Spock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    will refute your opponents’ arguments.  But if you’re interested in producing truth, you will fix your opponents’ arguments for them.  To win, you must fight not only the creature you encounter; you must fight the most horrible thing that can be constructed from its corpse.”  — Black Belt Bayesian

  8. Argue yourself out of your beliefs.  Try to think of what evidence would convince you that your cherished beliefs are wrong.  If you can’t think of any evidence, then you have to really question if the belief is the belief of a truth-seeker.
  9. Statistics.  The effectiveness of your scholarship will be increased the more you understand statistics.  You don’t have to be some sort of whiz, but even some popular-level book on statistics will help you understand more.
  10. Remember that rationality is about winning.  It’s about achieving your goals.  Spock was a

    straw man cariacture of rationality.  A real rationalist doesn’t look anything like Spock.  A rationalist revels in joy, and experience sadness.  A rationalists goals may be set by emotion.  A rationalist tries to avoid having his emotions interfere with his goals.

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