Rational Me or We?

Mar­tial arts can be a good train­ing to en­sure your per­sonal se­cu­rity, if you as­sume the worst about your tools and en­vi­ron­ment. If you ex­pect to find your­self un­armed in a dark alley, or fight­ing hand to hand in a war, it makes sense. But most peo­ple do a lot bet­ter at en­sur­ing their per­sonal se­cu­rity by co­or­di­nat­ing to live in peace­ful so­cieties and neigh­bor­hoods; they pay some­one else to learn mar­tial arts. Similarly, while “sur­vival­ists” plan and train to stay warm, dry, and fed given worst case as­sump­tions about the world around them, most peo­ple achieve these goals by par­ti­ci­pat­ing in a mod­ern econ­omy.

The mar­tial arts metaphor for ra­tio­nal­ity train­ing seems pop­u­lar at this web­site, and most dis­cus­sions here about how to be­lieve the truth seem to as­sume an en­vi­ron­men­tal worst case: how to figure out ev­ery­thing for your­self given fixed info and as­sum­ing the worst about other folks. In this con­text, a good ra­tio­nal­ity test is a pub­li­cly-visi­ble per­sonal test, ap­plied to your per­sonal be­liefs when you are iso­lated from oth­ers’ as­sis­tance and info.

I’m much more in­ter­ested in how we can can join to­gether to be­lieve truth, and it ac­tu­ally seems eas­ier to de­sign in­sti­tu­tions which achieve this end than to de­sign in­sti­tu­tions to test in­di­vi­d­ual iso­lated gen­eral ten­den­cies to dis­cern truth. For ex­am­ple, with sub­si­dized pre­dic­tion mar­kets, we can each spe­cial­ize on the top­ics where we con­tribute best, rely­ing on mar­ket con­sen­sus on all other top­ics. We don’t each need to train to iden­tify and fix each pos­si­ble kind of bias; each bias can in­stead have spe­cial­ists who look for where that bias ap­pears and then cor­rect it.

Per­haps mar­tial-art-style ra­tio­nal­ity makes sense for iso­lated sur­vival­ist Ein­steins forced by hu­man­ity’s vast stun­ning clue­less­ness to sin­gle-hand­edly block the com­ing robot ram­page. But for those of us who re­spect the opinions of enough oth­ers to want to work with them to find truth, it makes more sense to de­sign and field in­sti­tu­tions which give each per­son bet­ter in­cen­tives to up­date a com­mon con­sen­sus.