Rationality: From AI to Zombies

A series by Eliezer Yudkowsky


 

 

If you live in an urban area, you probably don’t need to walk very far to find a martial arts dojo.

Why aren’t there dojos that teach rationality?

Very recently—in just the last few decades—the human species has acquired a great deal of new knowledge about human rationality. Experimental investigations of empirical human psychology; and theoretical probability theory to interpret what our experiments tell us; and evolutionary theory to explain the conclusions.

These fields give us new focusing lenses through which to view the landscape of our own minds. We have a shared vocabulary in which to describe problems and solutions.

Humanity may finally be ready to synthesize the martial art of mind: to refine, share, systematize, and pass on techniques of personal rationality.

 

When human brains try to do things, they can run into some very strange problems. Self-deception, confirmation bias, magical thinking—it sometimes seems our ingenuity is boundless when it comes to shooting ourselves in the foot.

In Map and Territory, decision theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky asks what a “martial art” of rationality would look like, beginning with the basic fighting stance—the orientation toward the world that lets us get the most bang for our cognitive buck, that best positions us to understand and react to brains’ strange acts of self-destruction.

 

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I believe that it is right and proper for me, as a human being, to have an interest in the future, and what human civilization becomes in the future. One of those interests is the human pursuit of truth, which has strengthened slowly over the generations (for there was not always science). I wish to strengthen that pursuit further, in this generation. That is a wish of mine, for the Future. For we are all of us players upon that vast gameboard, whether we accept the responsibility or not.

And that makes your rationality my business.

Is this a dangerous idea? Yes, and not just pleasantly edgy “dangerous.” People have been burned to death because some priest decided that they didn’t think the way they should. Deciding to burn people to death because they ‘don’t think properly’—that’s a revolting kind of reasoning, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want people to think that way, why, it’s disgusting. People who think like that, well, we’ll have to do something about them…

I agree! Here’s my proposal: Let’s argue against bad ideas but not set their bearers on fire.

 

Human intelligence is a superweapon: an amazing capacity that has single-handedly put humans in a dominant position on Earth. When human intelligence defeats itself and goes off the rails, the fallout therefore tends to be a uniquely big deal.

How to Actually Change Your Mind asks how we can better identify and sort out our biases, integrate new evidence, and achieve lucidity in our daily lives. Because it really seems as though we should be able to do better—

—and a three-pound all-purpose superweapon is a terrible thing to waste.

 

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Get the full series

Map and Territory and How to Actually Change Your Mind are the first of six books in the Rationality: From AI to Zombies series. As of December 2018, these volumes are available as physical books for the first time, and are substantially revised, updated, and polished. The next four volumes will be coming out over the coming months.

In the meantime, you can also read the older edition of those volumes in electronic form, or as an audio book.


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All proceeds go directly to funding research at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Berkeley, California.