Recent comments

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?

Regards,
Muhammad

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncd6q9uIEdw

Playlist here:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLND1JCRq8Vuh3f0P5qjrSdb5eC1ZfZwWJ

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

Stronger claim

FS 2021-07-06

Commenting on: Probabilism

His claim was even stronger than that.

It was not just that science doesn’t use induction and thus he proposed another theory of how science works. His claim is that induction doesn’t even happen in any domain.

The most elaborate treatment of this view is given in his “Realism and The Aim of Science.”

It is a view that I am wrestling with, and if you combine it with Donald Campbell’s evolutionary epistemology. I think we find a strong case for this.

It is a different case of the impossibility of induction that David Deutsch makes in his books. Which is another interesting solution to induction.

However, I still can’t shake the feeling that some sleight of hand has happened here.

Non-black non-pigments

David Chapman 2021-06-07

Commenting on: When will you go bald?

Thank you very much for pointing this out! Fixed now.

Fixed

David Chapman 2021-06-07

Commenting on: Reasonableness is meaningful activity

Broken link fixed—thank you very much!

very minor nitpick

Juraj 2021-06-07

Commenting on: When will you go bald?

Dichroic coating or holograms don’t use pigments.

Yes it can be said that nebulosity argument might apply to the definition of “pigment” here too… but between us engineers, please don’t.

Why is always either Rota or Feynman that says one of these things?

tekopaul 2021-06-06

Commenting on: How To Think Real Good

I believe Feynman also said something very much along these lines about his own tricks with Geometry in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman

Popper rejected induction

David Chapman 2021-06-05

Commenting on: Probabilism

Popper explicitly didn’t have a solution to the problem of induction. He said it was insoluble, and that science doesn’t use induction.

I’m guessing that you are thinking of his falsificationism? That is explicitly not a solution to the problem of induction; it’s an alternative theory of how science works.

alternative to induction

FS 2021-06-05

Commenting on: Probabilism

what do you think of Popper’s solution to the problem of induction?

Broken link

David McFadzean 2021-06-05

Commenting on: Reasonableness is meaningful activity

The “chapter on accountability” link needs updating

Narrative Coaching

Danielle Roesmann 2021-05-22

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

@C’mon - I’m currently reading Narrative Coaching by David B. Drake, PhD and see some interesting parallels in thinking in meta-rationality. I have a sense that a Narrative Coach could act as a powerful guide if you’re unable to find a mentor.

Chapter 6, How We Change and Transition talks a lot about this “nebulous” state of transition. Perhaps coaching could be the scaffolding between 4.5 and 5?

Mo' betta citings

David Chapman 2021-05-08

Commenting on: Abstract Reasoning as Emergent from Concrete Activity

Thank you! You have increased my subjective well-being by 153+3-2 = 154 utilons!

More seriously, it did seem a bit anomalous that there were so few, and it’s interesting that it’s due to a data bug of some sort.

Slightly better news

Kaj Sotala 2021-05-08

Commenting on: Abstract Reasoning as Emergent from Concrete Activity

All our other papers are available on the web, and have been cited several thousand times. This one seems to have been cited only twice.

If I search Google Scholar with the name of your paper, it gives me two items with that name; one with three citations, but the other with 153 citations. So not quite as good as thousands of cites, but not quite as bad as only two (or three), either!

Propositional to procedural

Kate A 2021-04-15

Commenting on: Acting on the truth

My intuition would actually be to try to reduce propositional to procedural, rather than the other way around. So, more mechanical basic knowledge is the low level of abstraction, and the reasoning is the high level of abstraction.

Probably true isn't much better than absolutely true

Kate A 2021-04-15

Commenting on: How To Think Real Good

I wrote about this one my blog. The thing is that probability tricks you into thinking that you can still change your mind if you find a better theory. But then your evaluation is also performed in terms of probability theory, and your theory of mind is also Bayesian, and now it’s turtles all the way down.

“This is how it goes: the Bayes theorem (and probability theory in general) might not be the one true model, but it probably is because I think so and my mind must be Bayesian so because I think that the Bayes theorem is probably the one true model, because…. Gödel what? As long as you think that the probability theory has the highest probability of all other models you are stuck. Your only chance to get out is the one that is irrational in this framework, probably when you stumble on something that just feels clearly wrong.

The annoying thing is not so much the unprovability, the annoying thing is that. It blinds you to everything that doesn’t conform to your theory. It is not a confirmation bias, it is a confirmation loop. Your sources are self-selecting for the ones using the Bayesian reasoning. Confirmation bias can be corrected for, this cannot.”

Probably true isn't much better than absolutely true

Kate A 2021-04-15

Commenting on: How To Think Real Good

I wrote about this one my blog. The thing is that probability tricks you into thinking that you can still change your mind if you find a better theory. But then your evaluation is also performed in terms of probability theory, and your theory of mind is also Bayesian, and now it’s turtles all the way down.

“This is how it goes: the Bayes theorem (and probability theory in general) might not be the one true model, but it probably is because I think so and my mind must be Bayesian so because I think that the Bayes theorem is probably the one true model, because…. Gödel what? As long as you think that the probability theory has the highest probability of all other models you are stuck. Your only chance to get out is the one that is irrational in this framework, probably when you stumble on something that just feels clearly wrong.

The annoying thing is not so much the unprovability, the annoying thing is that. It blinds you to everything that doesn’t conform to your theory. It is not a confirmation bias, it is a confirmation loop. Your sources are self-selecting for the ones using the Bayesian reasoning. Confirmation bias can be corrected for, this cannot.”

Professor/mentors

C'mon 2021-04-02

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

Context for reaching it has been created only rarely, idiosyncratically, by exceptional individual mentors

STEM departments do not explicitly go beyond that. However, at least some professors understand the limitations of formal methods and the inherent nebulosity of their subject matter, and may teach that informally. They may also teach some stage 5 cognitive skills informally, implicitly, or by example.

Could you please point out some such mentors and/or professors please?

Thank you

Ethnomethodology process in a way looks to me similar to ML

C’mon 2021-04-01

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

we can find the rules by video recording people eating breakfast, and watching carefully, over and over.

That sounds very much like how machine learning works.

No?

Too much!

Kenny 2021-03-21

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

I was taking the periodic ‘quizzes’ for several weeks and it was very interesting! I could definitely perceive that my memory, of what was being tested in the periodic “reviews” anyways, was improving.

But I’m less sure how helpful this as a general technology. It’s certainly useful if it’s particularly important that one remember particular ‘passwords’. That is useful, sometimes incredibly so – lots of credentials, and concretely useful skills, are ‘gated’ behind an ability to recall specific facts or ideas easily and rapidly.

But I can’t imagine much use beyond that – the time costs of reviewing just one blog post are already way too expensive. I’m not sure how idiosyncratic this is, for me, or others generally. But I don’t think I’d have even an order of magnitude of a larger ‘budget’ for the reviews, even under perfect conditions.

I think this is something that is very useful, for a specific, fairly narrow, and very focused purpose. (And maybe even just one such purpose could be maintained at a time, with a possible exception for (at least roughly) full-time students or scholars.)

Mentors

Angie France 2021-03-14

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

We must creat mentors to help others make way to step 5 on the bridge. Our world is lacking greatly in mentors in general.

Wrongly assuming Romanticism

David Chapman 2021-02-03

Commenting on: The ethnomethodological flip

Yes; unsurprisingly this piece is well-known to anyone doing ethnomethodology. There’s a discussion in Michael Lynch’s Scientific practice and ordinary action, for instance (pp. 26-28).

Gellner made the common mistake of assuming that any critique of rationalism must be the Romantic anti-rational critique: that rationalism neglects critical aspects of subjectivity, which Romanticism valorizes.

This was exactly wrong. If anything, ethnomethodology could be criticized for the opposite: rigorous refusal to deal with subjectivity at all (on the grounds that, as observers, we have no access to it). It is more similar to behaviorism than Romanticism in this respect.

I frequently run into the same misunderstanding of my own work (e.g. in twitter discussions with self-described rationalists).

Ignorant, irrelevant, and inscrutable” discusses this. Ethno comes in the “inscrutable” category (i.e. meta-rational).

Gellner critique

joe 2021-02-02

Commenting on: The ethnomethodological flip

Ever seen this strange sociological critique of ethnomethodology by Ernest Gellner (in 1975)? He’s sniffing at it as a kind of Californian self-obsessed conformist hippie fad. I found it rather confusing (though funny!), but the last couple of pages also sound pretty prescient—a kind of negatively characterized fluid mode, “DIY subjectivity”, reductio ad solipsism. Quite disorienting. (Started reading Gellner via Cosma Shalizi fwiw, he of the famously impeccable taste… http://bactra.org/notebooks/gellner.html )

Here’s the piece:
http://tucnak.fsv.cuni.cz/~hajek/ModerniSgTeorie/literatura/etnometodologie/gellner-ethnomethodology.pdf

Feedback

Kenny 2021-02-01

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

It was overall a little jarring – I genuinely enjoy reading your writing and answering questions in between was noticeably different.

I’m not ‘sold’ on it, but I’m open to continue testing it!

Like all good games nowadays, I like the latitude it allows you – the person reading the prompts – in deciding whether to record a prompt ‘forgotten’ or ‘remembered’. I definitely played with different ‘personal interpretations’ of what those two possibilities might mean for a given prompt. I think the ambiguity (nebulosity) were rather delicious for your work in particular. I ended-up grading myself as ‘forgetting’ any prompts that I couldn’t both explain in my own words or with my own examples and any for which I couldn’t recall your specific terms or phrases.

I’m definitely curious to play with the longer-term prompts.

It’d also be interesting to feed other prompts, or pre-made sets of them for various topics, into a kind of big ‘prompt stew’ with which I could regularly challenge myself.

Thanks!

Kenny 2021-02-01

Commenting on: Maps, the territory, and meta-rationality

Thanks – both for this post and the ‘novel ontologies’ you’ve provided everyone. I’ve had a lot of use of ‘reasonableness’ and ‘meta-rationality’ so far!

Understanding the issue but not having exactly the "right" answer

David Chapman 2021-01-31

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

Thank you very much for this feedback! Glad you enjoyed it overall.

I had similar difficulties sometimes when first using Orbit with another author’s prompts.

I hope that with more experience in writing prompts we’ll be able to minimize this sort of problem.

Pathways and typos

David Chapman 2021-01-31

Commenting on: Maps, the territory, and meta-rationality

Ed — Thank you very much! Helpful examples, highly pertinent.

Steve — Both fixed now. Error reports always appreciated!

Typo in essay

Steve Alexander 2021-01-30

Commenting on: Maps, the territory, and meta-rationality

“If create an Orbit account, or link to your existing one“ — missing “you”

Also, there’s a repeated “a a” in footnote 12.

RE: Orbit

Orion J Anderson 2021-01-29

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

I read your maps and meta-maps article and did all the orbit prompts. Overall, I enjoyed engaging with them and I think the technology has great potential.

An experience I had with a lot of the questions was that I would read your prompt and be uncertain what answer you were expecting. I would have a concept or quote from that segment in my mind, though. When I clicked to reveal the answer, I would see that the phrase that I had recalled was indeed the answer you had in mind, I simply hadn’t understood how or why it was the answer. In those cases I wasn’t sure whether I should click “remembered” or “forgot.”

In a couple of cases, I thought about it and concluded that I hadn’t been able to answer the question because I hadn’t fully understood the passage; I was able to recall the quote, but not to see how it applied. In most cases, though, I ended up feeling like the problem was that the prompt was confusing or vague; I had understood what I read, but not understood the question you asked about it.

response to query for non-cartographic examples of maps

Ed Giniger 2021-01-29

Commenting on: Maps, the territory, and meta-rationality

“Genetic pathways” and “signaling pathways (in cell biology)” are excellent examples of maps that aren’t maps. You may have seen them – biologists love to show big wall charts enumerating all the genes in the genome or all the proteins in the cytoplasm, with little arrows showing which ones regulate which other ones. The reductionists then define “pathways”, by which A controls B, which controls C, which controls D, …etc., whereas the anti-reductionists say that the whole mess is irreducibly a network, in which everything controls everything else, so trying to define “pathways” is arrogant, oversimplifying nonsense that tells you nothing real. Both are wrong. Pathways ARE illusory, in the sense that if you try to connect more than two links by using the map you will find that you can link anything to anything else (much like 7 degrees of separation in a human population), and if you try to use that connection you “discovered” you’ll find that it predicts nothing. On the other hand, pathways are REAL, in the sense that some things really do work together, or work in opposition, reliably, under a host of different environmental conditions, and across a vast range of species. So sometimes there really is something there. The usual meta-rational justification is to invoke the relative weights of the connections between elements; if only we knew these then the map would be predictive. Again, not true. The weights of connections are not fixed; they vary as a high power of the number of links in the overall map. That makes prediction, well, let’s call it problematic. BUT: to reiterate, it remains true that biology behaves as if some of these pathways really are there and really do act reliably. Which tells us that there are parts of the marsh that are almost always less liquid, others that are gooey all the time, and parts that can be drier or messier, depending on whether it has been more evolutionarily successful for the system to evolve to err on the side of variability or toward reliability, and under which conditions.

All of this is particularly relevant at present because the world of neuroscience is in the thick of recapitulating exactly this same process in the description of neural pathways, which are certain to have the same strengths as genetic and signaling pathways, and the same limitations. All of which is fine, and practical and interesting and incredibly informative - as long as one recognizes the inherent nebulosity.

Funding

David Pinto 2021-01-29

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

Check Sqale. Co

I started a PhD and found it useless. Happy to pursue other paths. Funding is an important piece in the puzzle.

Like your writing and transparency. Will check orbit.

Is this what I have been looking for?

Michael Nieman 2021-01-29

Commenting on: Meta-rationality: An introduction

I am interested in this. I’ll tell you why. I have thought for years that the defining problem of this stage of human evolution is, how do we proceed when we now “know” that rationality is and always will be by definition partial and limited. And yet we cannot return to a prerational state. We are stuck here. Clearly, per Wilber and others, we needed to free ourselves from a prerational condition, and many unquestioned advances have come from that. But we seem to have reached the limits of that. Also, many social problems, much incomprehension between human groups, is caused by our mistaken belief that we are mostly rational, most of the time. For one thing, access to many perfectly good sources of wisdom and guidance is mostly cut off. Religion itself, wrongly understood as an alternative materialistic explanation of reality, has become a source of madness. However, I am not an expert in anything. I am a retired car salesman with an interest in philosophy and theology, attempting to learn to play the 🪕 and bring a lifetime of efforts at writing poetry to fruition. So perhaps, according to your, “who is this for?”, it would not be for me?

Thoughts on new format

Nick Hay 2021-01-28

Commenting on: Bring meta-rationality into your Orbit

I enjoyed this new format a lot. A couple of thoughts so far.

The reviews gave good places to pause and pick things up again later. Perhaps there’s a way to facilitate that even more by e.g. being able to press a button to re-review questions collected in the most recently read section?

The starburst, and the collecting x of N prompts text, gave a satisfying sense of progress.

The system supports a freedom to fail at remembering or even knowing a satisfactory answer to a prompt, trusting that you’ll get another chance later.

Non-cartographic map examples?

Chris Butler 2021-01-26

Commenting on: Maps, the territory, and meta-rationality

Really enjoyed this piece! I hear a “map is not the territory or whatever” at least weekly.

One question that might expand this further: are there non-cartographic maps that speak to the same thing?

I’ve found a lot of the map discourse (if you want to call it that) tend to avoid mental maps, system diagrams, and others for some reason. These tend to be the maps that people deploy to explain things to people that isn’t about physical locations. It ends up being the way people frame the problems they are solving and solutions they are recommending.

Great article

tr4nsmute 2021-01-20

Commenting on: Reasonable believings

Excellent article!

"The tarot works but it's evil"

David Chapman 2021-01-11

Commenting on: Reasonable believings

That’s partly a casual joke. But:

Divination methods can “work” by giving something for your unconscious or imagination or feelings to work with. Useful insights do come out of practices like the tarot. They can also generate delusion.

Part of the reason the tarot in particular works seems to be that it’s a collection of “archetypes” or generic myth fragments that are deeply embedded in the “cognitive grammar” of our culture. So they are a fast, effective way of shifting yourself into the “mythic mode” which I wrote about very briefly here.

The “evil” part is that the its archetypes are partly derived from the Neo-Platonic occult tradition, which has real value but which is also (in my opinion) highly distorted and distorting in some ways. It will tend to guide your unconscious/imagination/feelings along particular lines that may be harmful. And there’s some of the Medieval worldview in there, and a bunch of 19th Century Romanticism. These also are problematic, in my opinion.