What are the fruits of applied rationality?

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phaedrus
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 4:01 pm

What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by phaedrus » Tue Jul 11, 2017 7:35 pm

I've had several unrelated conversations recently in which the same sort of question came up, and as a rationalist-adjacent-adjacent sort who hasn't paid much attention to the actual rationalists thus far but occasionally becomes curious about whether doing so would be a good idea for reasons other than networking, I'm also interested in the question myself: what good can the rationality scene that coalesced around Less Wrong be demonstrated to already have done?

I don't mean in the sense of mainstreaming AI safety concerns; I mean the sort of practical, instrumental rationality that Fat Tony, Ben Franklin, and (for lack of a better example of a great talent in management/"suit skills") Jeff Bezos have. Are there any demonstrations of how studying this stuff can actually improve your life? The rationalist scene is based in SF; has it at least generated any successful startups?

A very common trap for the nerdish sort to fall into is taking academic skills as the set of all skills that exist. If you've ever seen nerdish sorts try to organize a project and fail due to lack of management talent (and I have, many times), you'll know what I'm talking about. My impression is that LW has recently become aware of this failure mode and started things like "Project Hufflepuff", but what are the fruits of the established instrumental rationality-promoting scene and its associated institutions?

Raininginsanity
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue May 23, 2017 4:50 am

Re: What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by Raininginsanity » Wed Jul 12, 2017 1:10 am

I'm sad that this forum is essentially dead, because I would like to know. I'm just sort of "adjacent" as well I guess, and am not as familiar with the core community.

The effective altruism community is adjacent and has done good. But again, that's adjacent.

archon
Posts: 59
Joined: Thu May 25, 2017 11:02 am

Re: What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by archon » Wed Jul 12, 2017 11:59 am

Raininginsanity wrote:
Wed Jul 12, 2017 1:10 am
I'm sad that this forum is essentially dead, because I would like to know. I'm just sort of "adjacent" as well I guess, and am not as familiar with the core community.

The effective altruism community is adjacent and has done good. But again, that's adjacent.
Its a bit of shame about the forum deadness, yeah. (though its really more forum left unborn)

I myself, am also rationalism adjacent, rather than properly part of that community. In general, I do think that rationalism is primary a philosophical exercise - most of its benefits are in applications, which is not what people think or talk about. While they are are there, I feel like it is more a kind of broad improvement, and a few mistakes left made unmade, rather than any drastic effect. But I certainly can't back that up with any real evidence.

Tl;dr: I don't know either.
"Don't be silly -- if we were meant to evolve naturally, why would God have given us subdermal implants?"

Raininginsanity
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue May 23, 2017 4:50 am

Re: What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by Raininginsanity » Wed Jul 12, 2017 5:38 pm

I think there has been some benefits in my own life. Its definitely made me approach topics differently. I have a social science background and so I was already predisposed to think about thinks in a somewhat rational way, but the community has really deepened and broadened my understanding. I would argue that doing this at a mass scale is a benefit to everyone.n Even if all the rationalist community every accomplishes is to make people more rational, is that not a worthy pursuit?

archon
Posts: 59
Joined: Thu May 25, 2017 11:02 am

Re: What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by archon » Thu Jul 13, 2017 8:40 am

Raininginsanity wrote:
Wed Jul 12, 2017 5:38 pm
I think there has been some benefits in my own life. Its definitely made me approach topics differently. I have a social science background and so I was already predisposed to think about thinks in a somewhat rational way, but the community has really deepened and broadened my understanding. I would argue that doing this at a mass scale is a benefit to everyone.n Even if all the rationalist community every accomplishes is to make people more rational, is that not a worthy pursuit?
I think the key point here is, how does being more rational help. We assume it is a good thing, but the only real way I can see it helping is that one needs understanding to make good value statements. Proving that being rational (Ideally without dependence on rational ideals) is actually worth it is somewhere between very hard and actually impossible. So we take it as an axiom, and act on the axiom.

So essentially, without using the principle "Rationality is good", prove that what rationalists do is good. That's a much more interesting that just replying "rationality is good because rationality is good"

As to actually proving that - people making more effective value statements, and not acting blindly is the only good I can think of off the top of my head. The community probably also provides a good home for a lot of people who wouldn't have such a good place to be otherwise. And it spreads a lot of knowledge - I have learnt a lot from rationalists, which I might not have learned otherwise.
"Don't be silly -- if we were meant to evolve naturally, why would God have given us subdermal implants?"

Raininginsanity
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue May 23, 2017 4:50 am

Re: What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by Raininginsanity » Fri Jul 14, 2017 3:08 pm

I think rationality is by definition good and therefore its own reward. But I see what you mean.

This could be one way to get the forum to be more active. If we could get just a few active members committed to the idea of "producing fruits" (whatever those fruits may be), then we can carve ourselves a niche in the rationalist community. We could produce actual research, or focus on self-improvement and motivation, or try to solve specific problems.

I came here for the format. I prefer forums to other types of means of communication. But I would happily join a project if I thought the project were worthy.

cactus head
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 06, 2017 3:37 pm

Re: What are the fruits of applied rationality?

Post by cactus head » Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:48 pm

Background: I consider myself as more of a rationalist than just rationalist-adjacent or rationalist-adjacent-adjacent because I used to read LessWrong back in the day. Didn't understand it very well, because I was only a teenager, but the concepts informed my thinking in ways that are nestled in deep now. I may read an old LessWrong post and think "Ah, that's the source of this idea that's been in my mind for half a decade!"

I say this to give context to my statement that LW rationality just.. hasn't been helpful for me in the way it's supposed to be helpful, where you pick up that metaphorical 100 dollar bill that everyone else has been too irrational to see. Didn't happen. To be fair, that could be because I wasn't taking it seriously enough, treating LW and other rationalist stuff as just insight porn and a source of interesting things to ponder on but rarely act on (e.g. I never became a vegan or made other big lifestyle changes like that). But I put a low probability on that "could be".

I think I can give partial credit to LW-style rationalism for the fact that I became less depressed over time because it's a space that very much encourages introspection and noticing how your mind works, and this was necessary for me to realise that I would get depressed because of the sensory inputs in my environment (to be very reductive about it) and not because of the actual thoughts I would have after entering a depressive spiral. The credit is partial because I think LW only sped it up, and that it would have happened anyway. I'm very glad that it happened as fast as it did though. Through LW and co, I was also introduced to useful terminology for thinking about depression and explaining it to others, chiefly the concept of a hedonic set-point.

Actually, of all things, the red pill ideology (specifically, the sex stuff) has been more helpful for me than LW rationalism, because in the long term it also made me less depressed, and I've started acting in different, more helpful ways partly because of that thinking. However, I have to give props to LW and Slate Star Codex for putting me in a position receptive to the red pill in the first place! In high school, I was a bit of a "social justice warrior".

Overall, I think the answer to OP's questions are largely "no"s, but I personally am very glad that rationalism exists.

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