In the Cells of the Eggplant is an introduction to : ways of using meta-rationality systems more effectively by examining their relationships with their surrounds. rational
Meta-rationality operates in the territory beyond the boundaries of
understanding. It recognizes, works with, and transcends the limits of rationality. It evaluates, selects, combines, modifies, discovers, and creates rational methods. fixed
As of mid-2020, only the first two Parts of
The Eggplant, out of five, are complete. I have posted them here on the web. When it is finished, I will publish The Eggplant in paperback and as a Kindle ebook. That may be years off.
The book gradually builds a complex, densely connected conceptual structure. It is not well-suited to reading in pieces. I
recommend starting at the beginning and reading forward in order.
Click on the colored triangles to expand or collapse section contents.
Pages marked with ⚒︎ are unfinished.
Meta-rationality: An introduction
Is this book for you? How meta-rationality can level up your work in science, technology, and engineering.
Part One: Taking rationalism seriously
The hope that systematic rationality can reliably provide certainty, understanding, and control fails when it encounters nebulosity.
Rationality, rationalism, and alternatives
Defining the subject matter: rationality, rationalism, reasonableness, and meta-rationality.
Rationalism’s responses to trouble
Rationalism responds to its failures, in the face of nebulosity, by making more complicated formal theories.
Positive and logical
Early 20th-century logical positivism was the last serious rationalism. Better understandings of rationality learn from its mistakes.
The world is everything that is the case
Aristotelian logic was mistaken both in details and overall conception, yet its key ideas survive in contemporary rationalism.
Depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is
Formal logic successfully addresses important defects in traditional, Aristotelian logic, but cannot deal with contextuality.
The value of meaninglessness
Recognizing that some statements are neither true nor false was a major advance in early 20th-century rationalism.
The truth of the matter
Formal rationality requires absolute truths, but those are rare in the eggplant-sized world. How do we do rationality without them?
Reductio ad reductionem
Reduction is a powertool of rationality, but reductionism can’t work as a general theory; most rationality is not reduction.
Are eggplants fruits?
Formal methods formally require impossibly precise definitions of terms. How do we use them effectively without that?
When will you go bald?
“Shades of gray” is sometimes a good way to think about nebulosity—the world’s inherent fuzziness—but not always.
Approximation is a powerful technique, but is not applicable in all rational work, and so is not a good general theory of nebulosity.
Reference: rationalism’s reality problem
The correspondence theory of truth doesn’t work by metaphysical magic. We must do the work to make it work—by any means necessary.
The National Omelet Registry
Rationalism implicitly or explicitly assumes that every object in the universe has a unique ID number.
Rational methods assume objects are objectively separable; but they aren’t. How do we use rationality effectively anyway?
Is this an eggplant which I see before me?
Rationalist theories assume perception delivers an objective description of the world to rationality. It can’t, and doesn’t try to.
What can you believe?
Propositions are whatever sort of thing it is you can believe. Nothing can play that role; so we need a different understanding of belief.
Where did you get that idea in the first place?
Rationalism does not explain where hypotheses, theories, discoveries, inventions, or other new ideas come from.
The Spanish Inquisition
Unboundedly many issues may be relevant to any practical problem, so mathematical logic does not work as advertised.
Interlude: A logical farce
A musical comedy, set in 1987, about the failure of the logicist program in artificial intelligence.
Probability theory seems an attractive foundation for rationalism—but it is not up to the job.
Leaving the casino
Probabilistic rationalism encourages you to view the whole world as a gigantic casino—but mostly it is not like that.
What probability can’t do
If probability theory were an epistemology, we’d want it to tell us how confident to be in our beliefs. Unfortunately, it can’t do that.
The probability of green cheese
A thought experiment shows why probability theory and statistics cannot address uncertainty in general.
Statistics and the replication crisis
The mistaken belief that statistical methods can tell you what to believe drove the science replication crisis.
Acting on the truth
Rationalist theories of action try to deduce optimal choices from true beliefs. This is rarely possible in practice.
⚒︎ Overcoming post-rationalist nihilism
Realizing rationalism is wrong can be devastating. Antidotes to the ensuing rage, anxiety, and depression are available, fortunately!
Part Two: Taking reasonableness seriously
Everyday reasonableness is the foundation of technical, formal, and systematic rationality.
This is not cognitive science
The Eggplant is neither cognitive nor science, although it seeks a better understanding of some phenomena cognitive science has studied.
The ethnomethodological flip
A dramatic perspective shift: understanding rationality as dependent on mere reasonableness to connect it with reality.
Aspects of reasonableness
A summary explanation of everyday reasonable activity, with a tabular guide and a concrete example.
Reasonableness is meaningful activity
Understanding concrete, purposeful activity is a prerequisite to understanding the formal rationality that depends on it.
You are accountable for reasonableness
Accountability is the key concept in understanding mere reasonableness, as contrasted with systematic rationality.
Reasonableness is routine
Routine activity usually goes smoothly overall, despite frequent minor glitches, because we have methods for repairing trouble.
We actively work to perceive aspects of the world as meaningful, in terms of our purposes, in context.
The purpose of meaning
Peculiar features of language make sense as tools to enable collaboration, rather than to express objective truths.
How we refer
We accomplish reference by any means necessary: observable, improvised work that makes it clear what we are talking about in context.
The epistemological categories—truth, belief, inference—are richer, more complex, diverse, and nebulous than rationalism supposes.
⚒︎ Reasonable ontology
Reasonableness works with nebulous, tacit, interactive, accountable, purposeful ontologies, which enable everyday routine activity.
Using instructions requires figuring out what they mean in the context of your activity, and relative to your purposes.
⚒︎ Part Three: Taking rationality seriously
A pragmatic understanding of how systematic rationality works in practice can help you level up your technical work.
Interlude: Ontological remodeling
Reconfiguring categories, properties, and relationships is a meta-rational skill—key in scientific revolutions.
⚒︎ Part Four: Taking meta-rationality seriously
The heart of the meta-rationality book: what meta-rationality is, why it matters, and how to do it.
⚒︎ Part Five: Taking rational work seriously
Putting meta-rationality to work, in statistics, experimental science, software development, and entrepreneurship.