Recent comments

What are the benefits of STEM education?

Zafar Yaqoob 2022-06-14

Commenting on: What they don’t teach you at STEM school

STEM education has been on the rise in recent years. It is a field that covers many different disciplines, but one that is increasingly important for future job prospects.

STEM-related fields have always been a big draw for students, but the demand for STEM-related jobs has grown significantly as well. This is due to the fact that many of these jobs are high paying and offer opportunities to work with cutting-edge technology.

STEM education teaches students how to use their analytical and creative skills in order to solve problems and tackle challenges that arise in everyday life. It also helps them develop the skills needed to work with new technologies and innovations - which will be crucial in the future.

Objective Reality

Commenting on: A first lesson in meta-rationality

The fuzziness of objects, along with subjects, has long interested me. That comes up in discussions about hyper-objects, which are those that are so large and complex that we tend not to easily perceive them as coherent and unified things. And we can consider hyper-subjects of the bundled mind (4E cognition, communal, animistic, bicameral, etc)

But we don’t need to turn to unusual examples and speculations. Such vagueness can be observed directly in our own experience. It’s similar to how, in turning one’s awareness onto the mind, one will never discover a soul, ego, or a willpower. All that one can find is a stream of experience that has no clear boundary or stopping point. And that supposedly ‘inner’ experience is continuous with external perception. The metaphor of the body-mind as a container is a cultural bias.

Are reductions psychological substitutions?

Robert M Ellis 2022-06-08

Commenting on: Wrong-way reductions

I was finding this interesting and useful until I got to your footnote about it being mathematical rather than philosophical or scientific reduction. If so, what is the point? How can there be any practical significance in whether a process involves a mathematical reduction or not, given that mathematical processes are just shuffling round within the terms of a rationalized model? How can there be any basis for ‘right’ v ‘wrong’ forms of reduction if it is merely mathematical?

Where I think you might be onto something useful would be if you related this to the psychology of bias (e.g. Daniel Kahneman), which notes a process of substitution in biased thinking from a more difficult ‘slow’ process to an easier ‘fast’ one. When you talked about reduction being easier, at first I thought that was what you meant. I think philosophical reductionism is another version of the same process, i.e. the adoption of an easier model in the place of a more difficult one, and this is what it shares with more traditional forms of metaphysics. The significance of this seems to have nothing to do with mathematics though.

Spectrum of Metarationality

Mike 2022-06-07

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

It might seem that these workplaces would fall into spectrums which encouraged their density and frequency of metarational so as to account for human differences valuing those people who could transcribe and translate at boundaries to rational links and collaborators allowing people as they felt like dipping their toes, being lowered in with a rope or those noticing stuff going on in these metarational pockets and wanted to serve as they develop.

My guess is that less than 1% are metasystematically reasoning with a lot of leeway for those in that mode of development a La Elliott Jaques (Human Capability)…which is far less than the 15% one might believe responsibility for innovation.

Taking into consideration how a world might benefit would be to allow those that could in a variety of forms to assume the “governance” that might “sponsor” these incubators of metarationality as either option or verse to foster the metarational unfolding, so to speak.

The paradigmatic problems which are emerging might be unpacked well enough by metarationalists as they go about the feeling and thinking of the freedom to do so without the rational nature of systematic problems running their course.

In a sense of collegiality there are many of us who “seem” without perhaps fully grokking metarationality to want this and are doing this collaboration in a virtual form…as if there isn’t any other…to formalize a process where the synergy might be enhanced is a question you might want to answer…let’s call it a bridge to metarational organizations.

Thanks for sharing your work;)


Mark Breza 2022-06-06

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

Was Ezra Pound perhaps talking about the control of language not the control of money ? For instance “In the beginning there was the Word & the Word is God”; now that sounds very restrictive.

Qualia… they’re out there

a s 2022-06-02

Commenting on: When will you go bald?

An interesting failure even in pop science writing (as opposed to serious rationalists) is “structural color”.

I was looking up bluebirds and noticed there’s a lot of websites confidently declaring things like “they’re not really blue, they just look blue”. What they apparently mean is, if you took a bluebird apart, there wouldn’t be a piece of it that’s still blue.

But of course it really is blue! Looking blue to humans and cameras is the reasonable use of “is blue”.

The Scientific Method Definition

Marko 2022-05-14

Commenting on: Rationality, rationalism, and alternatives


You mention that the scientific method can hardly be defined and is therefore implausible. I am by no means a rationalist who wants to believe in it, but I’ve caught glimpses of a certain “vastness” to the scientific method that I encountered in University, that goes beyond what they teach you in high school, and makes me wish I had learned more about it. It’s something about how you don’t just make a hypothesis, but you make two: a “null” hypothesis and a “positive” hypothesis, and you check to see how they interact before concluding anything. Also, making hypotheses is not the first step you do, but the last one, after much careful consideration. Something about how before that, you’re making a theory, but not applying it to the world and/or checking to see how it interacts with what you see. I might not be remembering it very well since it was a long time ago, but it seems like there is an ideal there that goes really deep.

Specious reasoning

Kearian 2022-03-16

Commenting on: Nutrition: the Emperor has no clothes

I don’t necessarily disagree that nutritional science has some problems with research, but this article is guilty of the same faulty reasoning you find in pseudoscience. If nutritional scientists don’t know anything, even with all their data, how could you know for certain that the obesity epidemic was caused by eating a low-fat diet? This is another one of those outrageous claims you hear all the time that lacks any real evidence. Many things changed in the 1970s and 80s, most notably two working parent households increased, and as a result intake of processed foods exploded. There’s certainly no evidence that the majority of Americans during this time were chowing down on brown rice and green vegetables. Since it is almost impossible to get people to follow a strict low-fat diet outside of a very controlled research environment, this would have been an impressive feat indeed. Yes sales for processed foods marketed as low-fat increased, but the average American during this time was eating hamburger helper, mac and cheese, and TV dinners. Hardly what you would consider low-fat fare, even when it is marketed as such. The problem with ultra low-fat diets is not that they don’t work, they work almost too well, just look at traditional asian and blue zone diets. The traditional Japanese diet contains around 50 grams of fat per day (compared to 80 grams in the United States), while the Okinawa typically eat less than 20 grams of fat per day. People in these cultures are very thin, and only gain weight when they change to a more western style diet. The type of diseases most prevalent in these cultures are related to having too little body fat, instead of too much body fat as we see in the west. The problem is that low-fat diets don’t seem to be sustainable for the majority of people who were raised on a western diet and live in environments surrounded by high-fat food, our instincts are designed to seek out and eat the richest food in our environment in order to avoid starvation. I doubt we will ever find a solution to that in our current abundant food world, the people who are unusually motivated to lose the weight and get healthy will, the people who aren’t will continue to die of disease. It’s a sad reality, but reality nonetheless.

Maybe these aren't Utopian ...

Kenny 2022-03-07

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

… but nebulous, particularly ephemeral.

I’d guess that some organizations have supported more-or-less meta-rational workplaces. The Manhattan Project immediately came to mind as one possibility.

I think my long-held preference for working at ‘startups’ or, at minimum, in small teams at ‘bigger’ organizations, is mainly because doing so affords me the ability to demonstrate ‘general competence’. Some of my favorite projects involved things like (sloppy) mathematical/academic research for particular problems (far outside of my nominal ‘position’). I find that generally very fun!

My favorite bosses/supervisors have also been those that, so I realize now, were best at spotting ‘breakdowns’ in the organization’s ‘rational systems’ and then adapting those systems (or scrapping them entirely) to better serve newly-identified purposes (e.g. someone’s preferences for certain kinds of work or some new task(s) that must be done regularly).

I commented on another of your post’s recently expressing a desire for more concrete details about or examples of meta-rationality – this post delivers! Thanks!

Impatient but not unsatisfied

Kenny 2022-03-06

Commenting on: Resisting or embracing meta-rationality

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’.


David Chapman 2022-03-03

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

Thanks for noticing the broken link—I’ve fixed it!

I read The Glass Bead Game when I was a teenager and it really impressed and affected me. I can’t remember anything about it now! I should re-read it.

Link fix

Alexander 2022-03-03

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

Also, seems like the Co-Founders page was moved to Meaningness, so the link needs to be updated.

Reminds me of

Alexander 2022-03-03

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

It reminds me of Valve’s New Employee Handbook, as it is precisely about work culture in Valve, and The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse (there, the master musician says to Joseph about ‘generally competent’ ideal in Castalia somewhere at around 50-th pages).

Such a great articulation of this

Malcolm Ocean 2022-03-03

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

I love how you laid it all out, both how & why it works. Tons of resonance with a lot of my own thinking on this. There’s definitely a puzzle in team design around how to bootstrap towards ever saner collaboration.

I am impatient too

David Chapman 2022-03-02

Commenting on: Resisting or embracing meta-rationality

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.

Beyond intros

Kenny 2022-03-02

Commenting on: Resisting or embracing meta-rationality

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?

Why not both monist AND dualist for Stages 3-5?

Greg 2022-02-28

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

I understand why stage 5 would be neither monist nor dualist in your definitions, but I wonder if stages 3-5 could be considered both monist and dualist (in perceptual-scientific terms).

People in stages 1 and 2 (kegan) are literally experiencing monism described by James Gibson. There is no abstract mental representation, but rather indexical-functional (concrete). Once they reach formal rationality, can’t they now look at things in terms of their literal affordances for action (concrete-monism), as well as their symbolic affordances for action (abstract -dualism)? I know this is not exactly what this page is about, but I’m wondering what you think of this.


What to include and what to exclude

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

In case anyone is interested, I really liked the discussion in the comments section of an old Beams and Struts article. Jeremy Johnson participated, but I really appreciated the view of T. Collins Logan.

There was much debate about integral thought requiring discernment where transcend involves both inclusion and exclusion. To integrate means to take what works and leave the rest behind. Not everything is equal and so we should avoid false equivalency.

That seems related to what is being talked of here. Discernment, of course, requires genuine understanding. We need to know what is 4.5 before we decide to dismiss or discard it. That is the challenge, if many at 5 tend to use straw man arguments against a caricature.

Some argue that it is problematic to equate 4.5 with postmodernism. That is because 4.5 has been taking hold for centuries, long before postmodernist writings. It has much more significance than that, specifically as it has played out in the larger world outside of academia.


David Chapman 2022-02-27

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

Ondřej — Fixed now; thank you!

Simon — Thanks; me too!

Very very very nice

Simon Grant 2022-02-27

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

Love it. I’d like to spend part of my remaining years seeing this happen for real.

Circumrationality link leads to error.

Ondřej Kubů 2022-02-27

Commenting on: A fully meta-rational workplace

Circumrationality link leads to error.

Raised in 4.5

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

Like many others, I mostly came to developmental theory by way of Ken Wilber’s take on Spiral Dynamics. But I knew of some basic developmental theories before reading Wilber. Anyway, I’ve had a couple decades of interest, combined with skepticism about linear models. That is what brought me here. I’ve read through the article and all of the comments. It’s a good discussion that does help me think through the difficulties that we are holding back society.

First off, it just occurred to me how much different is my experience than others. It seems I was basically raised in 4.5. That was my starting point. My father was educated in engineering, became an officer in the army, started his career in factory management, and then became a professor of business management. Growing up, he taught me how to think, argue, and write in a rational and orderly manner. And he regularly talked to me about systems thinking, which he studied and taught. Also, like my mother, he is a conservative and so very rule-oriented, that is to say some grounding in 3.

But, at the same time, my parents were going through a more open phase when younger and so raised me in a socially liberal, pluralist, egalitarian, and woo woo new agey church. And some of my most influential years were spent in a liberal college town. Even though, I dropped out of college and have worked entry-level jobs since, the mix of the 4.5 worldview feels natural to me. Even though I see the problems of 4.5, I’ve never been able to hate on it as I learned young what was of value in it. Some of my fondest early memories are of 4.5.

As a curious-minded autodidact, I gave myself a well-rounded humanities self-education with some postmodernism thrown in. Yet, even as I developed criticalness towards rationalism, I’ve retained rational capacities of analysis. And, though depressed for many years (largely for health reasons), I never fell into all-out depressive cynicism and that probably has to do with my 4.5 being informed by idealistic and optimistic religion that modeled emotional health. This helped me to more easily transition into 5, if it is ever easy for anyone in the world right now.

That relates to a point another commenter made. Many people who hit 5 become unduly critical of 4.5. And that commenter seems to have given the right explanation. It’s common for people to see exaggerated faults in the stage directly prior to their own. Your view is that college age is too early to introduce 4.5, but my suspicion is that it’s too late. A college course is not enough to build healthy 4.5. It needs to be part of a cultural and social context that gives support for developing it in terms of not only thinking but also of values, identity, and relating well. The bridge between 4 and 5 is 4.5. The problem is that 4.5 is too new to be well established, excepted in some rare places.

There is another issue that has been on my mind. I’m not sure that developmental theories are all that helpful for where we find ourselves. People so easily get obsessed with higher development when the reality is that most people are still struggling with lower development. Even among those who gained some purchase in 5, they often have only partial, distorted, and dysfunctional development. If Jordan Peterson is genuinely at 5, the dark bent of his reactionary politics shows how wrong it can go. It could be noted that he has dealt with many health issues and, as the brain is part of the body, neurocognitive development is only as healthy as the body. That is concerning considering rates of physical and mental illnesses are on the rise.

When I speak of lower development, I’m also partly referring to another line of development, that of physical health. Some have noted that WEIRD populations, at least in the US, have quite stunted motor development compared to that of many non-WEIRD or less WEIRD countries (see link below). That is probably an indicator of neurological and nervous development issues. There are many contributing problems: standard American diet, sedentary lifestyle, modern technology, chronic stress, toxic exposure, hormone disruptors and mimics, etc.

I actually think diet might be one of the most important factors. Nutritional deficiencies remain surprisingly common, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins and B vitamins as intake of many animal foods has decreased. For example, seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids back in the 1930s and the intake of seed oils has continually increased since. Those seed oils are oxidative, inflammatory, and mutagenic. Also, carbs have increased greatly as well, which also are inflammatory and so much else; with 88% of Americans having one or more conditions of metabolic disorder (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, non-fatty liver disease, etc).

There is also high inequality that causes immense havoc, including the close link between status hierarchies, social dominance orientation, anti-egalitarianism, and psychopathy. In a high inequality society, SDOs drawn to high status will be concentrated at the top of cognitive development because they have the most access to resources. Like SDOs, psychopaths are also concentrated in both positions of power and in prisons. So, in promoting higher development among the few, what mostly happens is one gets some highly and unevenly developed deranged individuals. As the data shows, even wealthier people in high inequality societies have higher rates of social, mental, and health problems.

We need to focus on the basics of individual and public health; and lowering inequality might be the most powerful leverage we have, as that affects almost everything else — such as more equal access to nutritious food, clean air and water, healthcare, education, etc. I suspect we are getting ahead of ourselves in talking about the meta-rational, integral, and such. Our biggest problems are much simpler than figuring that out, I suspect. Research shows that chronic stress from poverty and inequality increases the amygdala while stunting growth of the brain structures required for higher cognition (prefrontal cortex, neocortex, and anterior cingulate). How are more people supposed to develop greater cognitive ability when unhealthy environmental conditions are negatively affecting their brain?

Lakatos' Proofs and Refutations

Ondřej Kubů 2022-01-17

Commenting on: Positive and logical

I would like to mention Imre Lakatos’ Proofs and Refutations. Here is a link to the corresponding Wikipedia article.
It is a wonderful essay describing the nebulosity of mathematics.


a s 2021-12-27

Commenting on: I seem to be a fiction

I thought it was amusing that this page was written at the end of an AI winter, and now we’re back in an AI boom which has produced some decent imitation visual cortexes - but still nothing in the direction of AGI. Though some rationalists seem to be trying to worship GPT3 just in case it turns out to be Roko’s Basilisk.

  1. Monists love capital letters. Is that because they think capitals look impressive, or is it the result of bad translations from German?

Maybe they get it from Dr. Bronner’s soap bottles. Although those are translations from German, I wouldn’t want to insult the man by calling them bad, whatever they are.

On "unique cognitive styles"

Michael Nielsen 2021-12-27

Commenting on: How To Think Real Good

You write: “I’ve found that pretty smart people are all smart in pretty much the same way, but extremely smart people have unique cognitive styles, which are their special “edge.””

One possible hypothesis for why this is the case is that pretty smart people are essentially products of institutions. 20 people whose intellectual development is dominated by being at MIT will tend to end up rather similar, simply because they’ve been put through the same sausage grinder.

Someone sufficiently smart will find that relatively easy, and may have time to develop in other ways, very different from what is produced by the standard sausage grinder.

It is, of course, impolite to consider specific people in a context such as this. Still, it checks out with many specific examples. Though I wonder to what extent I am confusing correlation and causation here.

Country-level Stage 5

Esn 2021-12-20

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

I have a tentative hypothesis to contribute here: perhaps the elite of Russia is currently, tenuously, in Stage 5?

Hear me out here…

I am thinking in particular of this quote from the essay:

“Stage 5 entertains multiple systems, and is comfortable with contradictions between them, because systems are not absolute truths, only ways-of-seeing that are useful in different circumstances. Stage 5 is uniquely comfortable with value conflicts, since (unlike both 3 and 4) it does not take any value as ultimate.”

The country of Russia is, due to its tumultuous ideological history, currently chock-full of people holding irreconcilable values and historical interpretations at all levels of society. Despite this, it’s going through a period of relative peace and prosperity. The approach of the government for the past 20 years has been to carefully avoid provoking any of them needlessly, even the ones that seem to have little power. The INTERNATIONAL approach is similar. Through careful diplomacy, Russia manages to be on good terms with every country in the conflict-riven Middle East, despite being itself involved in many of the conflicts.

Listen to many of the major statements that the top officials make, from Putin on down, and it’s variations of “there are many ways to develop, there is no single model that is a good fit for all societies - we don’t agree with yours but we’ll leave you to it, but don’t try imposing your system on us or on anyone else who doesn’t want it.”

And while many countries respond well to that, the response from American and EU officials is typically something like “no, there ARE universal values that are good for everyone, WE represent them and spread them, YOU are standing against them, and we WILL keep trying to make you and everyone else behave in the one true, righteous way.”

So from this general impression, I’m getting the sense that at the state level, the Russian state is at Stage 5 (perhaps the Chinese state as well, though they’re more risk-averse so it’s harder to tell), while the West is at one of the lower stages, either Stage 3 or Stage 4.

If the above conversation was happening between two people, is that not the conclusion we would come to?

LW as of June 5th, 2013

David Chapman 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Pop Bayesianism: cruder than I thought?

This post was from June 5th, 2013 (as it says in small print in the sidebar). I believe that it is an accurate assessment of where LW was at then.

Since then, the Berkeley rationalist community has grown up in many ways, which I applaud and admire. One is that the leadership explicitly recognized that Bayes does not have the magical powers they once attributed to it.

My explanation

Dave Kunard 2021-11-21

Commenting on: Pop Bayesianism: cruder than I thought?

As someone who is part of this “community”, there is another term that is sometimes used, I believe coined by Scott Alexander, “x-rationality.” I like this better. You are focusing on the Bayesian part, which is admittedly a particular obession of Yudowsky. Yudowksy is eccentric and the cult issues have been thoroughly discussed. LW has changed over time as more diverse thinkers have been more influential. While LW has been incredibly influential, it is not the whole of “x-rationalism”, it is a sort of intellectual sub-culture that includes things like Scott Alexander’s blogs.

I would say the main unifying principle is the desire to be “less wrong.”

I disringuish this from “vulgar rationality” in the sense that the idea is to improve one’s own rationality, not “shoot fish in a barrel” which is common to many online groups that define themselves as rationalist. There are common interests, but there need not be universal agreement. Good faith conversations, understangind heuristics, there tends to be a preference for choice utlilitarianism but i don’t share it. Specific interest in AI, existential risk, how to update and calibrate one beliefs.

I feel like you are taking a very superficial view of this, literally looking at bayes equation, and seeing that as the whole of what it’s about.

I am a member of two x-rationalist groups, and I literally can’t even remember the last time someone discussed bayes or bayesian probablity. For EY, it was a key insight that did have a “religious” transformational experience.

What i think you also miss is that you look through the lens of your own model and see these things in primarily philosophical terms and perhaps don’t see the “what’s it like inside the equation” subjective power of what you would call “eternalism”- but which doesnt necessarily have the philosophical content you ascribe to it.

I would recommend looking into the phenomenon of temporal lobe epileptic and sub-eliptic expereinces and how they can induce “religious conversions”- that is “religion” which neither fits into the “choiceless” or “choice” modes neatly. It’s nature if more nebulous.

I think you have a lot of great insights, but you should perhaps apply the concept of “nebulosity” to your own models. They are useful modalities, but as you point out, not absolute truth nore devoid of meaning/ :)


Martijn Struijs 2021-11-15

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

Let us do some magic. I mean, MTG: Pick a card. ANY CARD. Now.. Look at the back. This is hard online, so let me help .

Now. 5 colors. 5 elements of personality. Corresponding to the 5 levels of keegan. Let’s start. I’m level 5:

Stage 1 — Impulsive mind (early childhood)
Stage 2 — Imperial mind (adolescence, 6% of adult population)
Stage 3 — Socialized mind (58% of the adult population)
Stage 4 — Self-Authoring mind (35% of the adult population)
Stage 5 — Self-Transforming mind (1% of the adult population)

I’m not even 1%. I’m 0.01%… I’m not that special… there’s just too many humans. Why am I top percentile? I am a student, cum laude in highschool with 2 extra subjects, cum laude in 2 EU bachelors in 3 years. (math + CS), I saw that AI was silly before I began doing a PhD in it, I had a masters in CS with cum laude and a free SODA paper, I’ve published a bit, and made basically all the mistakes, yet recently I saw the light and did 15 years of lost development (I blame the high modernists. They ruined not just me, but the entirety of youth. My education… is not forced. It is nebulous. It makes people think with their body, not just their mind (If you think this is silly, what do you believe about homunculi? The myth of the brain as the only part of your body that thinks is just the homunculus all over again....), it is scaleable, it actually has existed for 30 years without anyone finding it, and is mostly used to make the inventors rich. In every game of chance, it is the house that wins. Seeing the potential. I… am not the start. I’m simply the bleeding edge in the quest for the soul. I… had the STEM nihillistic depression in highschool. The doctors diagnosed me, correctly, with being a nerd. However, they didn’t see nor think that I should understand myself. And my creativity. The latter is what saved me… From the aftermath. Of terrible decision. I… simply didn’t learn anything important at the university. I mean, in class. I.... simply couldn’t live an unascended life So I had to keep banging on the door even if it didn’t budge. And eventually, it opened, after a very primal and personal emotional experience. The part where it all began…) Perhaps there is a level 6? I mean, what would that even be? Perhaps it is someone who is not only fluid in the mind, but also in the stages. I say that my naivite, tribalism, rationality, social mind, societal mind, transforming mind… are all useful aspects, instrumentally at least. Why limit your mind? I’m level 6. The level people couldn’t even imagine. Fluid over all 5 levels. Impossible to percieve, unless you look very carefully....

Of course, the master of 6 is the best teacher for 5. And like any good teacher, I have a scaffold. The 5 colours. Fucking magic

This will be all. The rest… Is an exercise for the reader. No need to thank me. Your development is thanks enough. Good bye. Don’t let me tell you about magic. Ask me about magic.

Yudkowsky and the mythical OTR

Daniel 2021-11-13

Commenting on: Rationality, rationalism, and alternatives

I don’t think Yudkowsky neccesarily believes in an One True Rationality.

However, by “system” I mean, roughly, a set of rules that can be printed in a book weighing less than ten kilograms, and which a person can consciously follow.11 If a person is an algorithm, it is probably an incomprehensibly vast one, which could not written concisely. It is probably also an incomprehensibly weird one, which one could not consciously follow accurately.

But Yudkowsky is primarily an GAI researcher, focusing on GOFAI presumably due to the reasonable assumption that one can hardly align an implicit consequentialist if one doesn’t know how to align an explicit consequentialist.

On the other hand maybe Yudkowsky occasionally belives in a One True Rationality, as long as you qualify it by “but it doesn’t exist yet” due to failure to keep apart his FAI research and “the art of human rationality”.

Yudowskyan rationalism cannot claim that meta-rationality is important due to being mostly unable to distinguish it from rationality, tho.
But what I would most want is discussion of whether 5: “Conform to the criterion!” is true, while agreeing that 1&2 are true and that 4,6&7 are false.

To that end I will quote 12 virtues of rationality:

As with the map, so too with the art of mapmaking: The Way is a precise Art. Do not walk to the truth, but dance. On each and every step of that dance your foot comes down in exactly the right spot. Each piece of evidence shifts your beliefs by exactly the right amount, neither more nor less. What is exactly the right amount? To calculate this you must study probability theory. Even if you cannot do the math, knowing that the math exists tells you that the dance step is precise and has no room in it for your whims.

The bolded text I take to mean that you should conform to the criterion (i.e. 5), with the criterion being probability theory, which you admited is true as far as it goes.

(This is still half a draft, but I decided to post it before I ran out of steam and left it as a draft, in the end leaving what I’d written to disappear when I shut of my computer. Sorry if I’m rambly.)

"Jam?" and an attempt at a rational language

Daniel 2021-11-13

Commenting on: The purpose of meaning

In lojban “Jam?” would be translated as <rutpesxu au pei>, meaning
“(something) is-a-jam-made-from-fruit(s) (unspecified_fruit(s)) -of-species (unspecified) [desire] [question]”, or, more formally, or when something is clearly requested <rutpesxu e'o pei> (e’o means [request]).
But in the CEO case, it would instead be translated as maybe <lo rutpesxu cu mo>, meaning “some jam-made-from-fruit(s)-belonging-to-a-species [main-verb-delimiter] [is-what?]”.

Point is, lojban seems to handle informal language games in a pretty formal and fuctional way (in the hands of a competent speaker), using , well, all of lojban, but, most relevantly (1) modals and stuff from chapter 13 of CLL, and (2) speech act theory applied to logic.

What does that mean for your conclusions on this page? :-)

Decision theory, maybe

David Chapman 2021-10-22

Commenting on: Rationality, rationalism, and alternatives

I’ve found Yudkowsky’s writing vague and inconsistent, so it’s hard to know what his position would be. However, he seems to hold that decision theory† is the One True Rationality, in which case he’d agree with 5-7 as well.

In case this wasn’t clear, the point of “meta-rationalism” is “meta-rationality is important.” Denial of 4-7 is not a definition of meta-rationalism, nor a significant part of it.

† Some version of decision theory that doesn’t exist yet. He’s tried to fix bugs in the standard version(s) but thinks there are unsolved problems still.

Yudkovskyan rationalism

Daniel 2021-10-21

Commenting on: Rationality, rationalism, and alternatives

As I understand it, Yudkovskyan rationalism disagrees with meta-rationalism in claiming that
4. You should conform to the criteria as neatly as you can.
is true, and of the 7 claims, it only disagrees with meta-rationalism about that claim.
(With Yudkovskyan rationalism I mean the “LW rationalism” expounded in the Sequences)

Further reading

David Chapman 2021-09-27

Commenting on: Positive and logical

I’m glad it has been helpful!

There’s some rationality/meta-rationality readings recommended in a section of the “Further reading” page on Meaningness.

Probably this site should have its own equivalent!

Meta-Rationality reading list

Muhammad 2021-09-27

Commenting on: Positive and logical

Hello Dr. Chapman,

Thanks for writing this fantastic book. I really needed this as I was going through a phase of post-rationalist nihilism after leaving LessWrong. I was wondering if you have a meta-rationality reading list for exploring these topics further?


Awakening from the Meaning Crisis

Valeria 2021-09-18

Commenting on: Ignorant, irrelevant, and inscrutable

Meta-rationalists have been promising a coherent account of meaning for nearly a century. Somehow, we’ve never delivered

Besides Chapman’s wonderful work, the work of Prof. John Vervaeke, including how he presented it in his “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis” series, seems to be a huge step in that direction (specially the second half of the series).

Preview here:

Playlist here:

Building the bridge

David Chapman 2021-08-16

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

Brent, these are excellent comments/questions.

at least if you drop into an article without reading in order.

Yes, this material, much more than anything else I write, needs to be read sequentially. I’m not sure how to convey that in a web presentation.

it is easy to mistakenly think that the problem is rationality, as opposed to rationalism.

Yes, this essay was written when I was first thinking about this material, before I began writing the book-length version, and I wasn’t as clear about it as I hope my more recent treatments are. Maybe they still don’t emphasize it enough.

have fluid thinkers established sufficient networks to recognize one another? Do they have a common language for communicating? Are they sufficiently organized?

No to all of these; and this is something I hope to help bring about. (But I have limited bandwidth and too many projects, and so on.) Writing here is all I’ve had time for so far, but I do want to develop community, trainings, and so on.

Stage 4 and 4.5 people (I think I am the latter) need mentoring. That would be the bridge you are talking about, wouldn’t it?

Yes; this stuff is best transmitted by apprenticeship. That’s inherently difficult to scale quickly, though. So also written material, video lectures, group courses, etc., which may be less effective but do scale better.

Despite its failings, rationalism—as a colloquial, unrigorous idea that system thinking is essential to solving problems, and even that “problem” is the best way to conceptualize a desire for change—at least offers a positive, tangible, realistic reward. If civilization is in danger, most rationalists still believe that rationalism is the means to avert that danger

I agree with that… getting more people from 3 to 4 is probably more important, and much easier, than getting people from 4 to 5. On the other hand, there’s lots of existing institutions and resources for the former task (it’s what universities are supposed to do, in part, in theory), and nearly no one working on the latter. So I’m taking the high-risk, potentially high-payoff option here.

it has to support a high traffic flow, sufficient to make a material difference to the world. It’s really difficult to see how it scales, especially in light of the war for attention and the finite human lifespan.

Yes… but we can only do as much as we can, and hope it helps enough!

Is the difficulty of building this bridge as the Great Filter?

I had not thought of that! I am not sure whether to be amused or horrified…

Rationalism/rationality; bridge-building

Brent 2021-08-16

Commenting on: A bridge to meta-rationality vs. civilizational collapse

I briefly got confused when you wrote “One needs to become disillusioned and disappointed with rationalism”, even though it was introduced as a specific concept only one paragraph earlier. There is some amount of disorienting recursion in the design of this meta-book, at least if you drop into an article without reading in order.

The confusion was that it is easy to mistakenly think that the problem is rationality, as opposed to rationalism. By the first I mean just the technique of reasoned argument, in contrast to the promise that rational thinking is the magic solution to all of life’s problems.

Anyway, maybe the problem is with the reader, not the text, but there are places where the text seems to assume that the reader already knows everything in the text, which, again, is a bit disorienting.

Hyper-text is great, but sometimes, you have to encounter ideas in the right order.

The call for more help, for those ready to transition, makes me wonder: have fluid thinkers established sufficient networks to recognize one another? Do they have a common language for communicating? Are they sufficiently organized? It seems to be a critical super-power when trying to achieve collective goals. Not to mention actually choosing and defining those goals. But definitely for growing.

Stage 4 and 4.5 people (I think I am the latter) need mentoring. That would be the bridge you are talking about, wouldn’t it? But most of us are not looking for ethical mentoring. Most are unsure how to get technical mentoring, outside academia. We mostly read a lot.

The chance of stumbling on insights seems low, and highly accidental. How many people in STEM decide they need to learn more philosophy because this rationalism thing isn’t reliably making the world better? There are a lot of impediments, not least of which the general opinion of philosophy as being a waste of time.

This brings me back to rationalism vs rationality. Despite its failings, rationalism—as a colloquial, unrigorous idea that system thinking is essential to solving problems, and even that “problem” is the best way to conceptualize a desire for change—at least offers a positive, tangible, realistic reward. If civilization is in danger, most rationalists still believe that rationalism is the means to avert that danger (despite the fact that rationalism mostly created that danger while trying to deal with other problems created by systems 2 and 3).

The bridge to stage 5 not only has to exist: it has to support a high traffic flow, sufficient to make a material difference to the world. It’s really difficult to see how it scales, especially in light of the war for attention and the finite human lifespan. The adoption rate is too low, and the attrition rate is too high.

Is the difficulting of building this bridge as the Great Filter?

Sorry if any of this is redundant, meandering, or otherwise time-wasting. Thanks for your efforts, as always.

More on this subject, please

SJK 2021-07-18

Commenting on: Pop Bayesianism: cruder than I thought?

Excellent summary. Another perspective on the potential harm of this meme: religious Bayesian are easy to manipulate by massaging their first impression of a subject, as the practice enshrines initial bias by allowing only a simplistic + predictable family of recalibration

Thrilled that you're starting to use Orbit

Alejandro 2021-07-18

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

I’ve regularly used Anki for the last year inspired by one of Michael’s essays on the topic and despite how difficult it is to identify the effects of spaced repetition for complex topics, I think there are a few notable benefits of the practice. One thing I’ve observed is that the prompts help you interact with the concepts with much more ease, so that you can easily import them in your own reasoning (instead of burdening your memory or failing to come up at all).
Thank you for doing the work of trying to engage further with the reader and I hope that you consider using spaced repetition for more of your essays