Rationality


4
Jul 11

Two Paths to Simplicity

I had an interesting discussion with a friend over the weekend.

I was trying to solve a problem with some software I was writing. I explained to him how I was attempting to do it.

He laughed.

He thought the way I was trying to solve the problem was way too complicated. He said that I should do it in a different way.

After about 15 minutes of debate, we came to the realization that both ways were legitimate ways to solve the problem. Both had positive and negative attributes.

The debate boiled down to a universal dichotomy in the path towards simplicity:

1. Start with something. Start taking away the unnecessary parts. Reach simplicity.

2. Start with nothing. Start adding only what is necessary. Reach simplicity.

My buddy was favoring number 1. I was favoring number 2.

To his point: I had almost all of the software written already. I could leverage that to solve my issue.

Towards my point: if I did things his way, I would not be able to know all the possible ways to solve the issue. I was trying to come up with the ultimate solution.

As it turns out, I came up with the algorithm to solve the issue using technique number 2, but it took way too long to run. So, I went with a solution based on number 1. And it seems to be working great.

When the rubber hit the road, number 1 won out over number 2. Is it always like that? Can you ever really start with nothing then only add the necessary parts?

It all depends on the situation. I think there are cases when you have a fresh start, a clean slate. And there are cases when you don’t have that luxury.

The point is to recognize when you are going down path number 1 or path number 2. Recognize when one path is not working. Understand that there are other options.

The choice to switch paths will always be up to you.


27
Jun 11

Integrity

For as long as I can remember, I have studied people.

I try to guess at what people are thinking. I try to understand what drives them to do what they do.

What does their body language say about their personality? Are they the most powerful one in the group? Why is that guy feeling that way? And all kinds of other questions …

After a while of doing all this observing, I end up identifying character traits that I like (and ones that I don’t).

Recently, I have noticed that some of the character traits that I admire all can be categorized under the term integrity.

It is an ambiguous word. Stanford has a long article describing 8 different ways one could define it. Self-integration, identity, standing up for something, moral purpose, virtue, intellectual, artistic, etc.

The first interpretation speaks to me the most: integrity is “keeping the self intact and uncorrupted” through “strength of will”. Keeping the self uncorrupted reminds me of the purification of the mind that I talked about in this post.

Simplicity. Efficiency. Occam’s Razor. … Integrity.

I see integrity in scientists I admire.

They stick to the principles of rationality and science. It may be easier for them to let doubts or worries influence their judgement away from reality, but through strength of will, they fight the temptations.

They follow the rules of logic and rational thought in the attempt to achieve a full understanding of reality.


13
Jun 11

Science and Beauty

Beauty and Science

xkcd's take on beauty and science


6
Jun 11

Traffic Again

I guess I do a lot of thinking while I am in traffic, so that is why I write about it so often. Today, I had a good experience with it.

I was sitting in traffic this afternoon and a lesson from meditation came to me. I realized that I was not fully understanding where I was because I was attempting to reject the situation.

It is hard for me to describe the meaning of “fully understanding where I was”. I have heard mindfulness/meditation experts talk about fully being in the present moment. But I am now just beginning to understand what they mean.

Once I recognized my immediate rejection of the fact that I was sitting in traffic, I was able to visualize the situation without my immediate rejection.

I had a more objective point of view. And it was a pleasant feeling. I felt empowered.

I started noticing what color the cars were in front of me. I saw how the leaves on the trees were a deeper green because there were dark clouds above.

At that point, I felt like I had a choice between sitting in traffic feeling upset or sitting in traffic trying to reach a better understanding of everything.

That distance is showing up in my everyday life.


16
May 11

Hasty Generalization

Here is another fallacy that can show up easily in everyday life.

When one commits the Hasty Generalization fallacy, one attempts to use inductive logic with too small a sample size.

What in the world does that mean? Well, I am glad that you asked.

Continue reading →


2
May 11

We Don’t Read That Trash

I came across a great example of a logical fallacy over at the good ol’ wikipedia:

We don’t read that trash. People who read that trash don’t appreciate real literature. Therefore, we appreciate real literature.

Usually, examples of logical reasoning do not show how they can be applied to everyday life.

  1. All men are mortal
  2. Socrates is a man
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal

Or:

  1. No fish are dogs
  2. No dogs can fly
  3. Therefore, all fish can fly

I can imagine someone new to the formal study of logic coming across this and thinking to themselves that syllogisms are only good for categorizing animal abilities or making completely obvious statements.

But that first example seems applicable to real life. How many times have you heard people try to separate themselves from one group in order to belong to some other group?


11
Apr 11

A Rational Goal from Mindfulness in Plain English

For the past 4 weeks, I have been mediating once a day. At the end of that post, I asked if there are ways to measure progress within meditation.

In order to see progress, I need to know what I am progressing towards. This means that I need some sort of goal or set of goals that I am trying to achieve with meditating.

At first, I thought that having goals with meditating was antithetical to the mindfulness philosophy. But as I said in that previous post, during meditation, thoughts need to be let go. But having a goal in practicing meditation in general is all right.

Henepola Gunaratana says something similar in Mindfulness in Plain English:

“As meditators, we all must have a goal, for if we do not have a goal, we will simply be groping in the dark blindly following somebody’s instructions on meditation.”

Continue reading →


4
Apr 11

Consistent Frameworks of Thought

I try to base my decisions on consistent frameworks of thought.

In other words, when I am faced with a choice, I immediately try to find similarities between my current situation and previous situations. Then, I try to recall if there were rules that governed my choices in the previous situations. If there were, I try to apply the same rules to the current situation. I make my choice based off the outcome of those rules.

But this methodology fails quite often. Various reasons apply:

  • I completely forget to use the method.
  • I forget about situations that are similar to the one that I am in.
  • I misinterpret rules I previously used.
  • I apply rules to the current situation differently than when I applied them previously.

Continue reading →


28
Mar 11

Persisting in Delusion

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

What delusions do you persist within?

Can’t come up with any? Are you just avoiding having to face an unsatisfying reality?

Here are some undeniable truths that may help you identify your own delusions:

  • You treat everyone you know differently.
  • You reach different conclusions based on what mood you are in.
  • You look for things that confirm your own preconceived notions.
  • You think that you can read people’s minds.

Try to think of concrete examples of how the above statements apply to how you think in everyday life.

As I have said before, you can become obsessed with questioning your reality.

You can let this way of thinking immobilize you.

Or you can let this way of thinking enlighten you. Everyone persists in delusion. You will never reach a fundamentally true understanding of reality.

But you know that these delusions exist. You know that you can identify them. You know that you can respond to them. And remove them.

You have rational thought. Apply it.


7
Mar 11

Wonder, Wobbles and Water

water faucetHow about that for a title?

Mr. Salamander’s latest comment describes wonder in a way that is much more eloquent than my brief anecdotes about it.

And very serendipitously, I read his comment and not but a day afterwards I came across a excerpt from Richard Feynman’s “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” that directly relates to what Salamander was talking about.

“I had nothing to do, so I start to figure out the motion of the rotating plate.”

He saw a plate wobbling in the air and decided that he wanted to figure out how that worked. He wanted to have fun by letting his interests take him where they wanted to go. Then he got a Nobel Prize for that work.

Continue reading →