Disclaimer: This thought is not original, but I can’t find one particular site to link to that explains it exactly the way I want, so I decided it was worth making my own.
The Center for Applied Rationality has, among other things, a very interesting story about Intel on their “What is Rationality?” page:
Semiconductor giant Intel was originally a memory chip manufacturer. But by 1985, memory chips had been losing them money for years. Co-founders Andy Grove (CEO) and Gordon Moore met to discuss the problem. The mood was grim. At one point, Andy turned to Gordon and asked, “If we get kicked out and the board brings in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?”
Gordon replied without hesitation. “He would get us out of the memory business.”
“Okay,” said Andy. “Then why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back, and do it ourselves?”
That year, Andy and Gordon shifted the focus of the company to microprocessors, and created one of the greatest success stories in American business.
I’ve noticed this effect before. A lot of times when other people are trying really hard to choose between two options and ask me for advice, I ask them “What would you tell a friend to do if they were also trying to choose between these two options?” and they instantly answer their own dilemma with a clear choice in favor of one option. Sometimes the people respond as if they had seen a magic trick, while others don’t quite get what had just going on and continue as if nothing changed for their dilemma.
Personally, there aren’t a lot of times where this works on myself. But sometimes it does. For example, this summer I had to choose between two internship opportunities and the choice looked very tough. But if I imagined my friend was also choosing between the same options and had the same dilemma, my advice to this hypothetical friend was clear.
And at that time, I noticed the choice had also become clear for myself as well.
On 3 Apr 2013 in All, Rationality.
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Follow up to: Why Moral Realism is False and How We Can Still Have Moral Discourse Without It
I’ve been outlining and defending a view that sees normativity as evaluating actions based on standards, and morality as being a certain subset of those standards. Some people have suggested, like Richard Chappell in the comments section, my friend Tom Mitchell in his essay “Renaissance Rationality”, or in quite a few philosophical works, and in conversations I’ve had with others that there’s something that makes morality rationally compelling or that it’s irrational to be immoral.
I’ve tried to answer this question earlier, and it appears that I’ve missed and some elaboration is in order. In this essay, I intend to analyze this view and dismiss it. I instead argue that while it’s frequently irrational for the typical human to be immoral in most cases, this isn’t necessarily true — there are too many different and contradictory moralities for all of morality to be rationally compelling and there are behaviors which seem “extreme” to the typical person while being required by rationality.
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On 10 Jan 2013 in All, Normativity, Rationality, Responses.
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Currently, about 58% of the voting age population actually vote, which in 2008 was 131 million people out of a possible 225 million people. What this means is that there were 94 million people who didn’t vote in the last election despite being able to, and we can expect this election to be the same.
Is this a problem? Perhaps not. While compulsory voting has an interesting appeal, I generally think people should be free to decline to participate for whatever reason if they want to. Indeed, given people’s overconfidence and under-informed approach to issues (for which I don’t blame them and for which I am also at fault), many people may have a moral imperative to not vote.
All this aside, I want to tackle head on the pervailing view I’ve been seeing among many people, including myself, that “voting is irrational” because your vote doesn’t really “count”. As smart person Steven Levitt says:
Well, one good indicator of a person who’s not so smart is if they vote in a presidential election because they think their vote might actually decide which candidate wins… there has never been and there never will be a vote cast in a presidential election that could possibly be decisive.
So this leads me to wonder is voting rational? Are there good reasons to vote? In this essay, I want to reverse the argument I used to buy, change my mind, and answer with a resounding yes. Voting is rational, there are good reasons to vote, and you really should go out and vote if you can.
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On 5 Nov 2012 in All, Political Commentary, Political Science, Rationality.
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I like to occasionally use this blog to react to things I hear a lot in my personal conversations with people. And I’ve been hearing two topics mentioned a lot recently: (1) the need to use international military intervention to bring Joseph Kony to justice, and (2) how this quest to be rational is cool and all, but life isn’t all about rationality, and maybe rationality isn’t for everybody and every situation.
Surprisingly, these two stories are very related. And it all culminates in a tale about how rationality is essential not only to our personal lives, but to saving the lives of others, and how if we applied the lessons we need to apply to rationality, we would recognize that Joseph Kony is evil, but not the biggest priority for our government or our personal checks. Here’s my telling of that tale.
Who is Joseph Kony?
Joseph Kony is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, commonly abbreviated as LRA, which is a Ugandan guerilla group aimed to use military force to turn Uganda into a Christian theocracy. To create his army, he orders the abduction of children — the females are sold into sexual slavery and the males are made into child soldiers. Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes since 2005, but has evaded capture.
Early this month (March 2012), Kony was the target of the Kony 2012 Campaign by Invisible Children, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating awareness about African child soldiers. This campaign was launched with a half-hour long advocacy video which advocated that if only we made Joseph Kony famous, there would be pressure for the government to get him caught, and the threat of child soldiers would be greatly reduced. With 75 million YouTube views via viral social media campaign, it’s safe to say they’ve succeeded in making him famous.
But will they succeed in capturing Kony? Is this cause the kind of cause we want to support? Is there even a way for certain causes to be better than others, or are all causes equal? Perhaps its even offensive to the work of Invisible Children to ask these questions! To answer these questions, we’ll have to turn to rationality. Bear with me.
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On 12 Mar 2012 in All, Optimal Philanthropy, Rationality, Utilitarianism.
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Some people wonder why it takes several dozen or more essays to explain my point. Why can’t I just explain why God does not exist or give a complete account for morality in a couple of sentences, or just one essay? Why do they need to read so much? The answer is because of the problem of large inferential distance which I first encountered in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s essay “Expecting Short Inferential Distances”. I will now, ironically, explain the concept of inferential distance in just one essay.
To start explaining, I begin with an analogy: Imagine trying to explain to a young-earth creationist why evolution is viewed as so obviously true. I don’t do this to say that you’re the obviously wrong creationist and I’m the noble biologist out to explain science to you that you just don’t get because you’re stupid. That’s not an accurate description of where we stand (nor is it an accurate description of where creationists stand). It’s just a good example to explain my point — bear with me.
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On 4 Jan 2012 in All, Rationality.
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