Why CFAR's Mission?
score: 6 (6 votes) ·
I think you might be pattern matching to straw-vulcan rationality, that's distinct from what CFAR wants to teach.
I don't think that's true. In my experience spending time with rationalists and studying aspects of it myself, I have found that rationalists separate themselves from the general population in many ways which would make it hard to convince non-rationalists. Those aspects are things that rationalists cultivate partially in an effort to improve their thinking, but also, in order to signal membership in the rationalist tribe. (Rationalists are humans after all) Those are not things that rationalists can easily turn on and off. I can identify 3 general groups of aspects that many rationalists seem to have:
1) The use of esoteric language. Rationalists tend to use a lot of language that is unfamiliar to others. Rationalists "update" their beliefs. They fight "akrasia". They "install" new habits. If you spend any time in rationalist circles, you will have heard those terms used in those ways very frequently. This is of course not bad in and of itself. But it marks one as a member of the rationalist tribe and even someone who does not know about rationalists will be able to identify the speaker who uses this terminology as alien and "weird". My first encounter with rationalists was indeed of this type. All I knew was that they seemed to speak in a very strange manner.
2) Rationalists, at least the ones in this community, hold a variety of unusual beliefs. I actually find it hard to identify those beliefs because I hold many of them. Nonetheless, a chat with many other human beings regarding the theory of the mind, metaphysics, morality, etc will reveal gaps the size of the grand canyon between the average rationalist and the average person. Maybe at some level, there is agreement, but when it comes to object-level issues, the disagreement is immense.
3) Rationalists think very differently from the way most other people think. That is after all the point. However, it means that arguments that convince rationalists will frequently fail to convince an average person. For instance, arguing that the effects of brain damage show that there is no soul in the conventional sense will get you nowhere with an average person while many rationalists see this as a very persuasive if not conclusive argument.
I claim that to convince another human being, you must be able to model their cognitive processes. As many rationalists realize, humans have a tendency to model other humans as similar to themselves. Doing otherwise is incredibly difficult and increases in difficulty exponentially with your difference from that other human. This is after all unsurprising. If modeling an identical copy of yourself, you need only fake sensory inputs and see what the output would be. If you model someone different than yourself, you need to basically replicate their brain within your brain. This is obviously very effortful and error-prone. This is actually hard-enough that it is difficult for you to replicate the processes that led you to believe something you no longer believe. And you had access to the brain which held those now-discarded beliefs!
I do not claim it is an impossible task. But I do claim that the better you are at rationality, the worst you will be at understanding non-rationalists and how to convince them of anything. If anything, as a good rationalist, you will have learned to flinch away from lines of reasoning that are the result of common cognitive errors. But of course, cognitive errors are an integral part of the way most people live their lives. So if you flinch away from such things, you will miss lines of reasoning that would be very fruitful to convince others of the correctness of your beliefs.
Let me provide an example. I recently discussed abortion with a non-rationalist but very intelligent friend. I pointed out that within the context of fetuses being humans deserving or rights, abortion is obviously murder and that he was missing the point of his opponents. The responses I got were riddled with fallacies. Most interestingly, the idea that science has determined that fetuses are not humans. I tried to explain that science can certainly tell us what is going on at various stages of development, but that it cannot tell us what is a "human deserving of right" as that is a purely moral category. This was to no avail. People (even very intelligent people) hang their beliefs and actions of such fallacy-riddled lines of reasoning all the time. If you train yourself to avoid such lines of reasoning, you will have great difficulty in convincing others without first turning them into yourself.