Out­line of Metar­a­tion­al­ity, or much less than you wanted to know about postrationality

There was a re­cent dis­cus­sion on Face­book that led to an ask for a de­scrip­tion of postra­tion­al­ity that isn’t framed in terms of how it’s dif­fer­ent from ra­tion­al­ity (or rather per­haps more a chal­lenge that such a thing could not be provided). I’m ex­tra busy right now un­til at least the end of the year so I don’t have a lot of time for philo­sophy and AI safety work, but I’d like to re­spond with at least an out­line of a con­struct­ive de­scrip­tion of post/​meta-ra­tion­al­ity. I’m not sure every­one who iden­ti­fies as part of the metar­a­tion­al­ity move­ment would agree with my con­struc­tion, but this is what I see as the core of our stance.

Fun­da­ment­ally I think the core be­lief of metar­a­tion­al­ity is that epi­stemic cir­cu­lar­ity (a.k.a. the prob­lem of the cri­terion, the prob­lem of per­cep­tion, the prob­lem of find­ing the uni­ver­sal prior) ne­ces­sit­ates meta­phys­ical spec­u­la­tion, viz. we can’t re­li­ably say any­thing about the world and must in­stead make one or more guesses to over­come at least es­tab­lish­ing the cri­terion for as­sess­ing truth. Fur­ther, since the cri­terion for know­ing what is true is un­re­li­ably known, we must be choos­ing that cri­terion on some other basis than truth, and so in­stead view that prior cri­terion as com­ing from use­ful­ness to some pur­pose we have.

None of this is rad­ical; it’s in fact all fairly stand­ard philo­sophy. What makes metar­a­tion­al­ity what it is comes from the deep in­teg­ra­tion of this in­sight into our world­view. Rather than truth or some other cri­teria, te­los (use­ful­ness, pur­pose) is the highest value we can serve, not by choice, but by the trap of liv­ing in­side the world and try­ing to un­der­stand it from ex­per­i­ence that is ne­ces­sar­ily tain­ted by it. The rest of our world­view falls out of up­dat­ing our maps to re­flect this core be­lief.

To say a little on this, when you real­ize the primacy of te­los in how you make judg­ments about the world, you see that you have no reason to priv­ilege any par­tic­u­lar as­sess­ment cri­terion ex­cept in so far as it is use­ful to serve a pur­pose. Thus, for ex­ample, ra­tion­al­ity is im­port­ant to the pur­pose of pre­dict­ing and un­der­stand­ing the world of­ten be­cause we, through ex­per­i­ence, come to know it to be cor­rel­ated with mak­ing pre­dic­tions that later hap­pen, but other cri­teria, like com­pel­ling­ness-of-story and will­ing­ness-to-life, may be bet­ter drivers in terms of cre­at­ing the world we would like to later find ourselves in. For what it’s worth, I think this is the fun­da­mental dis­agree­ment with ra­tion­al­ity: we say you can’t priv­ilege truth and since you can’t it some­times works out bet­ter to fo­cus on other cri­teria when mak­ing sense of the world.

So that’s the con­struct­ive part; why do we tend to talk so much about postra­tion­al­ity by con­trast­ing it with ra­tion­al­ity? I think two reas­ons. One, postra­tion­al­ity is eti­olo­gic­ally tied to ra­tion­al­ity: the ideas come from people who first went deep on ra­tion­al­ity and even­tu­ally saw what they felt were lim­it­a­tions of that world­view, thus we nat­ur­ally tend to think in terms of how we came to the postra­tion­al­ist world­view and want to show oth­ers how we got here from there. Se­cond and re­latedly, metar­a­tion­al­ity is a world­view that comes from a change in a per­son that many of us choose to identify with Kegan’s model of psy­cho­lo­gical de­vel­op­ment, spe­cific­ally the 4-to-5 trans­ition, thus we think it’s mainly worth­while to ex­plain our ideas to folks we’d say are in the 4/​ra­tion­al­ist stage of de­vel­op­ment be­cause they are the ones who can dir­ectly trans­ition to 5/​metar­a­tion­al­ity without need­ing to go through any other stages first.

Feel free to ask ques­tions for cla­ri­fic­a­tion in the com­ments; I have lim­ited en­ergy avail­able for ad­dress­ing them but I will try my best to meet your in­quir­ies. Also, sorry for no links; I wouldn’t have writ­ten this if I had to add all the links, so you’ll have to do your own googling or ask for cla­ri­fic­a­tion if you want to know more about some­thing, but know that ba­sic­ally every weird turn of phrase above is an in­vit­a­tion to learn more.