I agree metacognition describes something we do, but I don’t think it captures it as well as a Rationality does (I don’t like “rationalism” and kinda frown whenever people use it, though gladly it’s not used a lot).
When I hear “Metacognition” I think about “Thinking about thinking”, but in any particular way. Rationality to me is almost like saying “Rational Metacognition”, meaning it has a direction, it strives to be successful, to do well (and so on). It doesn’t give as much freedom as Metacognition in a way that I like.
Put another way, Metacognition sounds like a phenomenon or a category of phenomena, while rationality sounds like a technique, an approach or a philosophy.
I am familiar with worrying that talking about rationality would feel awkward or pretentious, but I think finding a good way to introduce it could go a long way to help before we consider changing the name. Perhaps something like “I’m a rationalist, which means I learn and think about how to think well, so I can apply these lesson and be more effective and make better decisions”
Anyway, upvoted for an interesting topic and a well made argument.
Thanks for your thoughts on the subject! You’re right that metacognition has a passive ring to it, which is strange since it’s very much something we do, and that educators try to teach as a way to help students achieve instrumental goals. It feels somehow like a “thing that brains do” rather than a “thing you do with your brain,” which is sad, since one of the central metaphors for metacognition is that it’s about “learning to drive your brain.”
Maybe the problem is really that it doesn’t seem argumentative. You and I can both be engaged in meta-cognition, even if we totally disagree and aren’t making any progress toward Aumann agreement. By contrast, we can accuse each other of irrationality, and fear it in ourselves. A “failure to use metacognition” doesn’t sound as dangerous as a “failure to be rational.”
And yet I do strongly believe that thought is what drives action, and is what drives agency. In that light, “thinking about thinking” is also a way of controlling action and setting goals.
After considering the objections in the comments, I am more confident than I was when I published this post that the activist, tendentious implications of “rationality” are the point of the term. Terms like “aspiring rationalist,” “rationalish,” and other softenings are ways of “making ourselves small” to gain tactical advantage and navigate social status issues, rather than something most members of the movement really believe.
Alternatively, such softenings are ways to emphasize the rationality of the movement, since many people, including many rationalists, would agree that intuition, emotion, and tradition are valid sources of information. “Rationality” can have an implication of wasting good information. So we use “rationalish” to keep the activist spirit while showing that we’re up-to-date in our thinking.
Better would be if everybody could just somehow realize that “rationality” is working in an updated paradigm, and see it as a straightforward way to empower ordinary people and make the world a better place. That way, we wouldn’t need the softenings and deviations.
So we seem then to have an issue of creating common knowledge. Right now, we’re in a suboptimal equilibrium, where not everybody realizes that “rationality” has a capacity for an updated meaning, or we don’t all know that everybody knows it. So we’re stuck with circumlocutions and deviations until we somehow succeed in confirming that we’ve created a new common knowledge.
Just for context, I personally never used any of the softenings (I didn’t even hear about rationalish till this post). They’re both cute but ultimately meh in my opinion.
Aspiring rationalists is pretty much redundant, since a rationalist isn’t someone who claims to be rational, but indeed someome who aspires to be. So unless you aspire to aspire, there’s no point to the term.
I like Rationalish as a pun, but I think it solves the same nonexistent problem.
One person I’m 99% certain I’ve heard use “rationalish” and “aspiring rationalist” repeatedly is Julia Galef. She does a lot of communication with outside experts from other fields, and I imagine that fielding the implied status questions with grace is a persistent challenge in her line of work.
I do think it’s well worth meditating on the idea that there is no problem with “rationalist,” and cultivating a sense of benign confusion and simple explanation of the term if/when people object.
“I’m a rationalist.”″Uh, so you think you’re smarter than everyone or something?”
“It just means a formal study of how to pick the right goals and decision-making procedures, and pursuing them effectively.”