The first step of rationality

post by toonalfrink · 2019-09-29T12:01:39.932Z · score: -2 (13 votes) · LW · GW · 14 comments

(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.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by moridinamael · 2019-09-29T19:06:35.981Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately there are many prominent examples of Enlightened/Awakened/Integrated individuals who act like destructive fools and ruin their lives and reputations, often through patterns of abusive behavior. When this happens over and over, I don't think it can be written off as "oh those people weren't actually Enlightened." Rather, I think there's something in the bootstrapping dynamics of tinkering with your own psyche that predictably (sometimes) leads in this direction.

My own informed guess as to how this happens is something like this: imagine your worst impulse arising, and imagine that you've been so careful to take every part of yourself seriously that you take that impulse seriously rather than automatically swatting it away with the usual superegoic separate shard of self; imagine that your normal visceral aversion to following through on that terrible impulse is totally neutralized, toothless. Perhaps you see the impulse arise and you understand intellectually that it's Bad but somehow its Badness is no longer compelling to you. I don't know. I'm just putting together the pieces of what certain human disasters have said.

Anyway, I don't actually think you're wrong to think integration is an important goal. The problem is that integration is mostly neutral. You can integrate in directions that are holistically bad for you and those around you, maybe even worse than if you never attempted it in the first place.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-09-29T19:33:59.152Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

imagine that your normal visceral aversion to following through on that terrible impulse is totally neutralized, toothless. Perhaps you see the impulse arise and you understand intellectually that it's Bad but somehow its Badness is no longer compelling to you.


Michael: Okay. So that’s how practicing samatha can help a dedicated meditator work through a lot of their baggage and material, and hopefully have less of a distressing type experience like Willoughby Britton’s talking about or less of a dukkha nana/dark night intense experience like Daniel’s talking about. And you’re using the meditation practice to help work with your stuff. But what about the other case that we both know of where people have reached very high levels of meditative capacity, they’ve got a lot of insight, maybe they’re at some level of awakening, and they seem to have, in a way, missed a whole pocket of material, or several pockets of material. It’s like they think they’re doing fine, but maybe everyone around them is aware that they’ve got these behavior patterns that do not seem awake at all. And yet the meditation has somehow missed that.

Culadasa: Yes, yes. [...] ... there seems to be a certain level of the stuff that we’re talking about that it’s necessary to deal with to achieve awakening, but it’s sort of a minimal level. And, you know, we spoke in terms of dukkha nana, dark night, adverse effect things. What I think that is indicative of is that if that hasn’t been sufficiently dealt with earlier, it has to get dealt with in one way or another at that point. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to get resolved; it may just get reburied a little more deeply.

Michael: Pushed out of the way.

Culadasa: Yeah, pushed out of the way, or bypassed in some way. That allows a person to go ahead and achieve first path, second path, third path, even fourth path, and it’s unrealistic to think that everything has been resolved. What meditation and what the progress of insight is going to do is it’s going to resolve enough of it to allow you to basically undergo the shift in perception that we refer to as awakening. And what’s left? Well, a lot of the things that change as a result of a process of awakening actually help to push these things aside, to bypass them in one way or another, whereas before somebody has achieved, say, first or second path, these would have been sufficiently problematic in their life that, in one way or another, they would be aware of them, whether or not they did anything about them or were at a place of just taking for granted that I have these, quote, “personality characteristics” that are a bit difficult.

Michael: Yeah. So it’s in their face all the time; it’s hard to ignore.

Culadasa: Right. But then when you get to the place where, you know, you have the falling away of personality view, so now the ego structure itself is seen as transparent, and it’s via the ego structure that a lot of this stuff manifests. So it’s wonderful to no longer have that attachment to the conceptualization of “who I am,” to be free of the burden of that, to not have to react to threats to my ideas of who and what I am and things like that. But it also, at the same time, allows you to just dismiss in the same way whatever problems that you have that are there. The degree to which your experience of suffering and craving is diminished is just going to be more of the same – you’re going to direct your equanimity towards these problematic things when they do surface, and let go of them, and of course that’s not going to do anything to eliminate them; they’re going to still be there.

comment by clone of saturn · 2019-09-29T21:26:36.217Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also related:

comment by crabman · 2019-09-30T21:45:31.005Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article's title is misleading. He didn't harass or rape anyone. He had sex with prostitutes and hid that from his wife.

comment by clone of saturn · 2019-09-30T21:54:00.015Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's completely fair to describe that as "sexual misconduct."

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-09-30T23:57:47.407Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. It's definitely sexual misconduct in the sense generally meant by the lay precept against sexual misconduct in Buddhist schools.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-09-30T19:09:23.157Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's something interesting happening here. Not quite irony, but something about seeing an expert notice and describe in details a general problem and then go on the suffer that problem themselves. It's sort of like the only way to become really expert in something is to do it, and that goes for being an expert in all the ways we can fail to be integrated, even with bodhi.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2019-09-30T20:07:25.801Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, but is it really necessary to become an expert in… anything, really, much less anything so esoteric as meditation/enlightenment/whatever, in order to avoid doing any sexual misconduct? It seems like most people manage this without any great expertise at all…

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-09-30T20:28:11.212Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you miss my point. He's offering here a detailed explanation of how we can fail to integrate with what we value, and I point out that maybe that's because he has such difficulty with it. I'm not making any particular point here about whether or not he is an expert in meditation, bodhi, etc. or whether that is relevant to sexual misconduct beyond it being an instance of failing to integrate his actions with what he claims to value. That most people manage not to engage in sexual misconduct, commit murder, steal, etc. doesn't seem much relevant to the point of understanding the gears of how not to do it, even if most of us don't need to know about the gears to get our desired outcome.

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-10-01T15:28:51.785Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depending on standards of what counts as sexual misconduct, men in powerful position quite often engage in it.

He basically engaged in extramarital affairs and wasn't always fully truthful about them with his wife. He also seemed to have paid money to sex workers which is also an activity in which many people engage.

As far as people we know of in that kind of position of social power, this doesn't seem untypical to me.

comment by cousin_it · 2019-09-29T20:49:13.333Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel that focusing too much on myself is kind of a bad habit, or at least it makes me unhappy. (Bertrand Russell noticed the same.) It's more fun to do things or hang out with people.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-09-30T09:55:40.950Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I liked the post, but

While integrating the self, we build the focus and trust needed to have a say over our system 1.

sounds like it's coming from the frame of System 1 and 2 being clearly distinct and System 2 being superior, when actually it seems to me like System 2 extends the capabilities of (and is reliant on) [LW · GW] System 1 for its functioning.

comment by Hazard · 2019-09-29T14:13:57.259Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm mostly on-board with this sentiment. To anyone getting excited about integration, note this comment [LW(p) · GW(p)] of mine about potential ways you can accidentally think you're integrating more, while actually putting up more walls (and this post is related [LW · GW], less on general integration and more paying attention to emotions).

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-09-30T19:32:52.456Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree. I'll make a bold claim here that I've made elsewhere (sometimes using different language), which is that I wasn't really a rationalist until stream entry. Before that I was just pretending to be a rationalist. By extension from one example (albeit with lots of experience [LW · GW] and related evidence that makes me think this is likely valid), I suspect no one is capable of systematized winning without stream entry, mostly because the kind of unification of mind and agency needed isn't present before hand. That doesn't mean winning without stream entry should be discounted, but it does make it fragile and contingent because it's not robustly systematized since the person doing the winning isn't yet capable of robust systematization.

To put a different frame on it, many rationalists like to talk about being "aspiring rationalists" rather than using the rationalist label directly because to them "rationalist" suggests some ideal to which one aspires but cannot be fully realized (this is especially true if you think of being a rationalist in Bayesian terms and then have to come to grips with being a finite, embedded being rather than a Cartesian being with hypercomputation). In that framing, I'd say being an aspiring rationalist without stream entry is like being a starfish aspiring to become a fish: the gap is so wide it causes a type error. Luckily, unlike this unlucky starfish, humans can transform themselves into the thing that can be an aspiring rationalist.

(There's a likely objection here that some would say I'm not a rationalist, making it likely someone would discount this on those grounds. I would instead say that I've transcended what many people think of as rationality, but that doesn't mean I've rejected it, only come to see it as valuable only up to a certain extent where it functions. That's a topic for another time, but wanted to put that here since it's relevant to evaluating my claims.)