Rationality


7
Feb 11

Solitude and Power

Ladies and Gentlemen! We have our first comment! Thank you, Salamander.

It only took 82 weeks, but we got one. And it was worth the wait.

Mr. Salamander mentions two very important concepts that have I been thinking about a lot lately: solitude and power.

I have found that mindfulness and rationality bring about feelings of both.

When I am concentrating on my senses, I am not thinking about others. I focus on only my environment and how I am experiencing it. I typically can only be mindful when others are not around. So, I probably force the solitude and mindfulness link. (Ain’t it ironic that communication from another brought up the topic of solitude?)

At the same time, there have been a number of times when I become mindful of how my hands feel on my computer, or the way my feet feel walking barefoot on the floor, or how a drink tastes or any number of other mindful experiences and I am reminded of the fact that everyone else in the world feels the exact same senses. (They may not process them the same way, but regardless.).

Rationality, by its very nature causes me to separate my opinions from other people’s opinions. I distance myself from others when I use rationality. I attempt to minimize the effects that my emotions have on my thoughts. People typical induce emotions in me (good, bad, or neutral). So, rationality causes me to feel solitude.

Overall, I like the solitude. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people that I love everyday of my life. If I was in a different situation, I probably would not appreciate the solitude. But it feels good when I get the chance.

I have talked about how empowering mindfulness is a few times before. It stops out of control thoughts right in their tracks. I feel like I have complete control over what is going on in my head when I concentrate on my senses.

With rationality, I feel similarly empowered. There is a logical process I can follow to reach a conclusion. It is a system I can fall back on when things get too fuzzy. I use it to advance my understanding of myself and the world.

Solitude and power. Mindfulness and rationality bring about both.


31
Jan 11

The Mind Projection Fallacy

Sugar

Sugar is not inherently sweet. We only think it is.

The chemicals in sugar interact with our taste buds which send signals to our brain that we interpret as the concept of sweet.

Along with sugar, the Mind Projection fallacy shows up in our thoughts concerning all sorts of things.

Less Wrong’s wiki has a brief write up about it.

Reading about this reminds me of one of the first times that I understood what being color-blind really meant. Some people see colors differently than how I see them.

And forget the whole solipsistic, reality-is-all-just-in-our-heads aspect of it. I found the fact that my interpretation of reality not being the absolute truth to be fascinating.

Probably too fascinating.

Questioning my interpretation of reality is like an addiction.

What is the real truth? Is this really how this thing works? Is there something more behind all this?

These are good questions to have. I just can’t let them take over.

Action with Uncertainty.

Photo courtesy of Uwe Hermann 


13
Dec 10

Judgment and Objectivity

GavelRecently, I have been talking about analysis quite frequently.

I enjoy the topic. But I find that if I do not keep myself in check, I can get carried away with the collecting, analyzing and peripheral activities that come along with it.

Judging is one of those peripheral activities.

Since I have a better understanding of how I spend my time, I feel as if I have more control over how I spend it. And if I have the ability to choose how I spend my time, I automatically judge if one way of spending my time is better than another.

This goes against a fundamental principle found in both science and mindfulness: objectivity.

We are trying to understand the world in a way that is independent of the observer. These biases, judgments and opinions can get in the way of fully understanding what we are observing.

I mentioned this common trait in a post I wrote over a year ago: Universal Loving Kindness.

Mindfulness wants to let you see the world as it truly is, regardless of how you think the world should be. Science is exactly the same.

I recognize the need to make judgments. There is no way to get away from them. They guide me in the direction I want to take in life.

However, there must be a clear separation between the observation and judgment. And I must be mindful of which one I am practicing at all times.

Photo courtesy of bloomsberries 


15
Nov 10

Efficiency

The ratio of the output to the input of a system.

Something with high efficiency is something that produces a large amount of output given a small amount of input.

How much do I produce? How much do I consume?

Production and consumption both depend on the context.

Production can come in the form of many things: lines of code tested, paragraphs written, blades of grass mowed, puzzle pieces placed, achievements earned, mechanical work produced, ideas formed, etc.

Consumption can be food intake, of course. But it also can be related to how much information you take in, or how much time you spent on something, or how many goods you purchased.

High efficiency reminds me of Occam’s Razor: “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

Or in other words, if you can produce the same result with less “entities”, you should.

Be highly efficient.


8
Nov 10

Richard Feynman on Different Ways of Thinking


11
Oct 10

Moving the Goalposts

GoalpostHow many times have you been in an argument with someone and the other person changes their stance in the middle of the conversation? And how many times have you just gone along with it?

Usually, the arguer does not completely reverse his or her position. They just tweak their argument a little.

Skepticwiki.org lists an example about a movie reviewer here.

In the example, the antagonist makes a claim with an example that is incorrect. Then the antagonist keeps making excuses for why his examples are incorrect.

The antagonist did not make the goal on his first kick, so he moves the goalposts in order to score.

I know that this happens to me all the time.  And I just go right along with it.  For some reason, I ignore the obvious goalpost movement and continue to argue against the main point.

But what I should be doing is acknowledging that the opponent is compromising his argument.  His point may be completely valid and it is just the one example that is wrong.  But since he is unwilling to admit that he is wrong in anyway, his main argument is weakened by the incorrect example.

If I want to come to an agreement with my opponent, I could try to find a working example for him.  If I can think of one, I could identify how the example works with my side of the argument also.

If I just want to win the argument, I could force him to admit that he is wrong. Immediately after that, I would site examples that work for my side and state that it was the end of the argument.

Photo courtesy of timparkinson 


23
Aug 10

Crack in My Windshield

Windshield Crack

I have a crack in my windshield. I got it a few days ago, and I have not had a chance to get it fixed.

Originally, it was not that large. I didn’t see an immediate need to get it fixed. But yesterday, I noticed that the crack had gotten longer.

What had happened that made it bigger? I wasn’t sure. I needed to employ some rational thinking.  And I needed to do it quickly so that I could avoid any situation that would cause more problems.

How much longer was it?  When did it actually increase in size?  Where was the car when it happened?

I could not answer any of those questions with 100% certainty.  I had my suspicions, but I was not sure.

So, I decided to place a smudge on my window at the end of the crack.  Today, I drove my car like normal.  But every time that I got in my car, I checked if the crack had increased in size.

I parked in the parking deck at work in the morning.  I checked the crack size before I went to lunch.  No change.  I parked outside at lunch.  There was no change after the half hour I was at lunch.  I parked in the sun at work after lunch.

Leaving to go home, the crack had increased in size.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Exposure to heat for a long period of time caused the crack to get longer.

I am not sure what made me think to smudge my window, but it set up a situation where I could measure change (however crudely) and the time that the change occurred.

Science can show up in the smallest things.

Photo courtesy of bionicteaching 


16
Aug 10

The Monty Hall Problem

Three DoorsThinking rationally is difficult. It requires you to be disciplined. You have to follow the rules even when you want to take the easy way out.

You have to follow the rules even when they completely go against your intuition.

In the same spirit as this post, let’s do a quiz.

You are presented with three doors.  Behind one door, there is a brand new car. Behind the other two doors, there are goats.  You are asked to pick one door.  You will receive the item that is behind the door that you choose.

After you pick the door, you are shown a goat behind a door that you did not choose.  This leaves two doors unopened.  The door you chose and one other door. You are then asked if you would like to switch your choice.

Would switching your choice help you win the new car?

Continue reading →


9
Aug 10

The Novelty of Eastern Thought

I found this post while browsing through Less Wrong a few days ago.

In it, Eliezer Yudkowsky writes about how his writing on rationality has been influenced by Zen and Eastern philosophy in general. He spends a lot of time talking about how his writing is different than the Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Taoism). But he comes back with saying that the concepts that he is attempting to get across are similar to what Eastern philosophies are attempting to convey.

I feel the same way. Many of my posts have talked about this duality. Just last week. Here. And here.

However, he does describe a possible reason for why his writing (and, in turn, my writing) is influenced by the East. Eastern philosophies are different than what he was raised to believe in. Eastern philosophies are new.

In his post, Yudkowsky writes “If I had grown up in Taiwan, my writing would probably sound far more Buddhist and Taoistic; and perhaps I would talk of the inspiration (though not advice) I had received from reading some Taiwanese book about Greek philosophers, and how I often felt closer to Judaism than my forgotten childhood Buddhism.”

I probably notice the influence of Eastern philosophies more because they are different and new to me. But that does not make their influence or similarities any less meaningful. There are important lessons to be learned from the East. And while the religions that surround these philosophies are filled with gods, worshiping, rituals, suffering, sacrifice, etc., the concepts and practices are very useful and enlightening.

One such practice is mindfulness. In the East, it is surrounded by thousands of years of ritual. This combined with its novelty to Westerners makes it off-putting to many. But I have found it and the practice of thinking rationally the two most effective methods of controlling my thoughts.

So, (just like Yudkowsky mentions in his post) it does not matter how these methods are dressed up and presented to you. If they work, they work.


2
Aug 10

Solving the Jigsaw

Jigsaw SolvingSometimes mindfulness is not appropriate.  Sometimes rationality is the only way to go.

I sat in front of a jigsaw puzzle the other day and decided to attempt an experiment.

My normal thought process when trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle is to identify an area of the puzzle that I want to fill in, look for a missing piece that is around the edge, identify the part of the picture that is missing and then search for the part of the picture within the pieces that have not been placed yet.  The strategy works to a certain extent, but I wanted to improve it.

I decided to employ mindfulness to help the puzzle solving process.  I identified an area of the puzzle I wanted to solve.  I saw a missing piece and the missing part of the picture.  I then turned off my mind.

Continue reading →