Are you the rider or the elephant?

Some re­cent threads seem to me to be point­ing at a re­ally fun­da­men­tal ten­sion that I don’t know how to ar­tic­u­late in full. But here’s a chunk of it:

When you think of your mind as di­vided into your Sys­tem 1 /​ fast /​ un­con­scious /​ non­ver­bal /​ in­tu­itive /​ emo­tional pro­cesses, which we’ll call the “elephant,” and your Sys­tem 2 /​ slow /​ con­scious /​ ver­bal /​ de­liber­ate /​ an­a­lytic pro­cesses, which we’ll call the “rider,” which of those do you iden­tify with? That is, when you say “I,” does “I” re­fer to the elephant or to the rider (or both, or nei­ther, or other)?


We used to talk about straw Vul­can ra­tio­nal­ity, the kind of ra­tio­nal­ity that is only about the rider and com­pletely ne­glects the elephant, and how the kind of ra­tio­nal­ity that, say, CFAR is in­ter­ested in is much more about get­ting the rider and the elephant to com­mu­ni­cate with each other and work well to­gether as a team, com­ple­ment­ing each other’s strengths and weak­nesses.

We say this, but it still seems to me that many peo­ple I run into (for ex­am­ple, at in­tro­duc­tory CFAR work­shops) im­plic­itly iden­tify as their rid­ers and treat their elephants as an­noy­ing pets that have to be man­aged so that they, mean­ing their rid­ers, can get on with their lives. I think this is… “wrong” would be a type er­ror, and also un­kind. But I’m sad about it.

I’ll out my­self: I iden­tify mostly with my elephant, and think of my rider as at best a helpful ad­vi­sor for my elephant.

And I get the sense that all of the dis­agree­ments I’ve been nav­i­gat­ing re­cently have been with peo­ple who iden­tify as their rid­ers and are deeply sus­pi­cious of their elephants, and also (by as­so­ci­a­tion) of my elephant; and that this has been the main driv­ing force be­hind the dis­agree­ment.

I don’t re­ally know what to do with this. It seems like the po­lite thing to do is to mostly only en­gage peo­ple like this rider-to-rider (which is mostly what I’m do­ing right now, in this post), but there are a lot of im­por­tant things—even im­por­tant things for the art of ra­tio­nal­ity, from my per­spec­tive—that I think (and feel!) can only be com­mu­ni­cated elephant-to-elephant, and set­ting aside how fea­si­ble it is to do this on­line, it seems to be un­set­tled whether peo­ple even want elephant-to-elephant com­mu­ni­ca­tion hap­pen­ing on LW at all.

I’m also just wor­ried about peo­ple treat­ing their elephants poorly.

I have a lot more to say about this but I mostly want to open the floor up for dis­cus­sion.