The Benefits of Rationality?

Robin wrote how be­ing ra­tio­nal can harm you. Let’s look at the other side: what sig­nifi­cant benefits does ra­tio­nal­ity give?

The com­mu­nity here seems to agree that ra­tio­nal­ity is benefi­cial. Well, ob­vi­ously peo­ple need com­mon sense to sur­vive, but does an ad­di­tional dose of LessWrong-style ra­tio­nal­ity help us ap­pre­cia­bly in our per­sonal and com­mu­nal en­deav­ors?

Does LessWrong make us WIN?

(If we don’t WIN, our evan­ge­lism rings a lit­tle hol­low. Science didn’t spread due to evan­ge­lism, sci­ence spread be­cause it works. Art spreads be­cause peo­ple love it. I want to hold my Art to this stan­dard. Push-sel­l­ing a solu­tion while it’s still in­fe­rior might be the lo­cally op­ti­mal de­ci­sion but it cor­rupts long-term, as many of us have seen in the IT in­dus­try. That’s if the ex­am­ple of all re­li­gions and poli­ti­cal move­ments isn’t enough for you. Be­ware the Evan­ge­lism Death Spiral!)

We may claim in­ter­nal benefits such as im­proved clar­ity of thought from each new blog in­sight. But re­li­gious peo­ple claim similar in­ter­nal benefits that ac­tu­ally spill out into the mea­surable world, such as hap­piness and char­i­ta­bil­ity. This fact gives us envy and we at­tempt to use our in­ter­nal changes to group to­gether for world-benefit­ting tasks. To my mind this looks like putting the cart be­fore the horse: why com­pete with re­li­gion on its terms, don’t we have util­ity func­tions of our own to satisfy?

No, feel­ings won’t do. If feel­ings turn you on, do drugs or get re­li­gious. Ra­tion­al­ism needs to ver­ifi­ably bring ex­ter­nal benefit. Don’t help me be­come pure from racism or some­such. Help me WIN, and the world will beat a path to our door.

Okay, in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships are out. Then the most ob­vi­ous area where ra­tio­nal­ism could help is busi­ness. And the most ob­vi­ous com­mu­nity-benefi­cial ap­pli­ca­tion (riffing on some re­cent posts here) would be sci­en­tists band­ing to­gether and mak­ing a prof­itable part-time busi­ness to fund their own re­search. I can see how many tech­niques taught here could help, e.g. PD co­op­er­a­tion tech­niques. If a “ra­tio­nal­ism case study” of this sort ever gets launched, I for one will gladly offer my effort. Of course this is just one sug­ges­tion; ev­ery­thing’s pos­si­ble.

One thing’s definite for me: ra­tio­nal­ism needs to be grounded in real-world vic­to­ries for each one of us. Other­wise what’s the point?