The first step of rationality

(Cross­post from LW Nether­lands FB group)

The first step of ra­tio­nal­ity is in­te­grat­ing the self. You’re not ac­tu­ally one agent, in the sense of some­thing that has one co­her­ent goal and set of be­liefs. You’re an en­sem­ble of agents that tend to dis­agree with each other. And if they do, lots of bad things hap­pen. If it gets re­ally bad, we put these things un­der the um­brella of men­tal ill­ness. If it’s just slightly bad, we call it things like in­de­ci­sion, brain fog, lack of mo­ti­va­tion, con­fu­sion, weak­ness of will, akra­sia, etc.

An in­te­grated self is what Maslow pointed at when he listed self-ac­tu­al­ized in­di­vi­d­u­als. It’s part of what Bud­dhists call en­light­en­ment. It’s the thing you edge to­wards if you med­i­tate, or when you heal a trauma. It’s what Jung ges­tures to­wards with his in­te­grat­ing the shadow. It’s what you at­tempt to get, in a very ex­plicit and clunky way, with an In­ter­nal Dou­ble Crux. Com­plete in­te­gra­tion of self is the end-all be-all of spiritual prac­tice.

Have you ever no­ticed that your “amount of aware­ness” goes up and down? That’s your­self be­ing more or less in­te­grated over time. Have you ever no­ticed how, af­ter a de­cent amount of med­i­ta­tion, your in­tu­itions sud­denly work for you in­stead of against you? That’s in­te­gra­tion. It’s a sud­den clar­ity and con­trol. As if there’s less be­liefs and goals in your brain to com­pete with.

Med­i­ta­tion has been shown to in­crease the amount of white mat­ter in the brain. White mat­ter is the wiring be­tween differ­ent ar­eas. More wiring, I imag­ine, means more com­mu­ni­ca­tion. More com­mu­ni­ca­tion, I imag­ine, means more in­te­gra­tion. What’s more, the ACC, part of your pre­frontal cor­tex, has a dual func­tion of in­hi­bi­tion and aware­ness. Th­ese func­tions tend to cor­re­late in­versely. As if you have a lot more re­sources at your dis­posal if you’re not spend­ing them on push­ing down parts of you that you dis­agree with. I spec­u­late that this is the phys­i­cal sub­strate of your shadow be­ing in­hibited. In­te­grat­ing your shadow means open­ing up these gate­ways to your re­pressed sub­agents, mak­ing amends with them, go­ing from in­hi­bi­tion to aware­ness.

So why not just stop our efforts and sign up to the lo­cal bud­dhist Sangha in­stead? Be­cause in ra­tio­nal­ity there is a sec­ond step. Sys­tem­atized win­ning.

While in­te­grat­ing the self, we build the fo­cus and trust needed to have a say over our sys­tem 1. When prac­tic­ing sys­tem­atized win­ning, we use our power over our in­tu­itions to pro­gram them ac­cord­ing to our best un­der­stand­ing of de­ci­sion- and prob­a­bil­ity the­ory, cog­ni­tive bi­ases, con­se­quen­tal­ist ethics, and any­thing else that cut­ting-edge an­a­lytic thought can give us.

While a Bud­dhist might even­tu­ally let go of the need of con­sis­tency to fur­ther liber­ate their mind, we hold on to it. Our paths di­verge where the tails of hap­piness and pro­duc­tivity come apart.

But that’s many years down the line. Un­til then, I sug­gest we em­brace spiritu­al­ity.

Some prob­lems are new, but the prob­lem of men­tal flour­ish­ing has been with us for hun­dreds of thou­sands of years. Many gen­er­a­tions have ded­i­cated their life’s work to solv­ing it. In these gen­er­a­tions, some peo­ple that were many or­ders of mag­ni­tude smarter than you. 92% of the hu­man race is in the past.

Imag­ine that some of them did figure it out. Imag­ine that they even man­aged to hand down the solu­tion to their de­scen­dants. How might they have called it? I think they called it spiritu­al­ity.