Comments on “Resisting or embracing meta-rationality”

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Beyond intros

Kenny 2022-03-02

Having followed you now for quite a while, I notice I’m a little impatient for something ‘beyond intros’. I think I get what you’re pointing/gesturing at, but I feel like I’ve been ‘looking forward to’ the next ‘step’ in your description of meta-rationality.

There were some tidbits you’ve shared along the way. Some of what you’ve written for “In the Cells of the Eggplant” seemed to contain sufficient concrete details that it seemed like I had a better more specific idea of meta-rationality and how to maybe start practicing it myself.

I’ve also seen glimpses of it (or so I thought/think) in other things – that’s been exciting! But it’s also hard to gain much from other things generally – a lot of things are by, for, or about people that aren’t (consistently) ‘rational’.

I don’t use Twitter often but of the few times I have and I’ve seen a tweet (or retweet or whatever) from you, it seems to be criticizing ‘rationality’ but not (AFAICT) doing ‘meta-rationality’. It’s only because I’m familiar with your work that I know you’re not advocating for ‘pre-rationality’!

I also wonder if part of my confusion is because ‘rationality’ to you is very different than what others mean, e.g. the ‘modern rationality movement’. The idea of using ‘rational systems’, i.e. debating, discussing, and thinking about how they work, when they work, how they correspond to reality at different scales, and alternative ‘rational systems’ for specific problems or subjects; that all sure seems to me to be very much like what you describe as “conjur[ing] with systems as a magical dance of transparent illusions”.

And something I can’t quite shake is that ‘doing meta-rationality’ should ‘look’ like doing a lot of ‘regular rationality’, but different varieties of it (in the sense of something like ‘at the same time’).

Even if there are no “principles” or “methods” for doing meta-rationality, surely there must be examples.

Do you have any meta-commentary about your own various meta-rationality projects that might be useful as examples of meta-rationality itself?

I am impatient too

David Chapman 2022-03-02

Hi, Kenny,

I would love to finish the book! I stopped working on it more than a year ago, and concentrated on the Meaningness book instead. I have half a dozen main projects, each ~20% complete. This is highly unsatisfactory for me, and also clearly for readers. Unfortunately, I don’t get much time to write, and it’s spread across many projects all of which seem more important than all the others.

I got impatient with Meaningness at the end of last year, and it seems likely that I’ll be working on meta-rationality again soon. (But also I’m putting some effort into the Buddhist stuff—both my own and my spouse’s Evolving Ground project—and I still want to continue with Meaningness, so…)

One of the individual bits of writing that are close to the front of my queue at the moment is exactly an example of meta-rationality. I chose it because it’s extremely mundane and boring, and therefore clear and easy to understand. Namely: choosing a web development framework. This is a necessarily meta-rational task because the criteria for choice are not primarily technical but social. As system architect, you need to take into account the preferences of your programmers and of executives; you need to evaluate the health of the FLOSS community that backs the framework; you need to do informal requirements analysis both of current needs and likely future ones; and so on.

criticizing ‘rationality’

I hope not! Rationality is usually good. I criticize “rationalism,” which is a wrong theory of how and when and why rationality works.

debating, discussing, and thinking about how they work, when they work, how they correspond to reality at different scales, and alternative ‘rational systems’ for specific problems or subjects

Yes, all that is meta-rationality.

Assuming by “the modern rationality movement” you mean the LessWrong-adjacent subculture, some of what they write is unambiguously meta-rational. The center of gravity is more-or-less rationalism as I use the term, but the subculture is not exclusively that.

Impatient but not unsatisfied

Kenny 2022-03-06

Sorry – I wasn’t (or didn’t want to come across as) complaining as much as anticipating more details about meta-rationality (and the complete stance).

I’m extremely sympathetic about having dozens of projects (in various states of non-completion).

I’m looking forward to your explication of meta-rationality using the example of “choosing a web development framework” – that’s something I’m familiar with both professionally and personally (as the latter is relevant to a lot of my own personal projects).

I don’t entirely disagree with your description of “the LessWrong-adjacent subculture” as its “center of gravity [being] more-or-less rationalism”. I think the ‘center of gravity’ of my own perspective is skewed as the original active/popular participants have mostly dispersed to alternative venues and the site itself now being something like an archive/library and ‘community center’ for people new to the ‘movement’.

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