A Rationalist’s Guide to...

The one asks “why aren’t rationalists ruling the world?” Do you have an adequate answer? No excuses allowed. I found that when I first heard the question, I didn’t at all expect rationalists to be systematically outperforming others (except perhaps in IQ tests and the things they correlate with). I find my own expectations disappointing. I don’t truly even expect rationality to be life-changing, but I would like it to be.

Rationality currently may very well be a filter for some smart people with common interests. So, how do we improve on our instrumental rationality? How do we make sure rationality is actually helping people grow? I’m obviously not the first person to ask this. I’d say Eliezer’s first few essays in The Craft and the Community lay out the problem well. I don’t really see a way to change the grand problem quickly, but I have a sense that there’s some low-hanging fruit.

On an episode of the Bayesian Conspiracy, I forget which one, their guest said something along the lines that rationalists should be coordinating better to address growth in specific areas, such as health or the ability to increase your own predictive abilities. I quite agree. I think we could put together guides to many different topics of interest. For instance, “A Rationalist’s Guide to Physics”, assembling the best-known sources for learning about physics, with people sharing what did and didn’t work for them. I started to think of this when I noted that the Feynman Lectures are cited as extremely good works for learning the basics of physics in a meaningful way, but had heard of no similar books for chemistry or biology. Might someone else know? Hm…

Another example could be “A Rationalist’s Guide to Exercise”, with analysis as in-depth as Scott Alexander’s “Much More Than You Wanted To Know” series. I bet there’s a rationalist that’s done the reading and has the experience with the subject. There are many many basic things that actually have scientific support that a rationalist ought to know. One of my favorites being the simple trick of standing up every regularly, which can outperform exercising regularly followed by rest periods.

I’ve also been reading through MIRI’s guide to start learning about AI alignment. There’s CFAR’s reading guide. And there’s random rationalist-recommended books strewn across the internet. Have you tried to track down all the books Eliezer has recommended? I have. It’s annoying. I’ve been trying to cobble together study plans for topics that interest me. My first idea was to look at my university’s degree catalogs for all the majors I’d like to learn through self-study, pick out the courses that interest me but still ensuring a breadth of topics, and try to track down top-recommended textbooks for each course cheaply. This is a large task, to say the least. I think it could be crowd-sourced. Probably something modeled on MIRI’s guide above, with books that many rationalists have read and can recommend.

I just know there’s a chemist here somewhere itching to share all the best ways to learn chemistry. I’m dying to know! So let’s make it happen! If this project is already being done, please let me know. If we can do it well enough, perhaps the Overlords Who Pick Recommend Sequences will pin them at some point. What kinds of topics do you think would be good for this project? Would you like to make a guide of your own? If you make one, message me and I can link it here to try to keep a central catalog of them all. Any chance this is a good idea?