[extropy-chat] examples of rational irrationalism

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Sun Dec 10 16:36:16 UTC 2006

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Is it rational to do X can only be answered by
> knowing what ones goals (including value type
> goals) are and what the choices are and by the
> accuracy of one's model of the situation and
> likely outcome of doing X.   To cut off any of  
> these aspects is to miss what Is mean when I
> agree a particular action or decision is
> "rational".
> I see no clear separation between the rational and the moral.

I think many people would agree with you that the factors you mentioned
above are key when a person is trying to get or convey a feeling for
whether some other person (or group) is acting "rationally." I think
your usage and understanding of the term must generally work quite well
for you in conversations with other like-minded persons about the
"rationality" (actually the "rightness" or "wrongness") of various
actions in the world. The irrationality of war, the government's
irrational approach to perceived threats, the irrationality of
businesses polluting the environment in their single-minded quest for
profit; these are all topics of discussion that appear to be a good
match with your usage of the term. Evidence of the effectiveness of your
usage of the term "rationality" is how well many people "get" what you
mean in such discussions; that such conversation proceeds effectively
with no one stopping to ask "um, what exactly did you mean by
'rational', in the context of people killing other people for oil?"

This understanding of "rational" is similar to the popular understanding
of "car". People commonly think of a car as essentially a mechanical
object that you get into, and by operating certain controls you're able
to go places.  Of course you have to feed it gasoline and other fluids
at certain times which you know from indicators or maintenance schedules
in the manual, etc. This kind of definition is nearly complete for many

On another level, outside today's mainstream, a "car" is much more
complex, comprised of a complex system including chassis, suspension,
motor, drive train, etc., and each of these systems comprised of
subsystems of complex interacting components.  For thinking at this
level, the previous common understanding of "car" is terribly
incomplete.  Whereas people at the preceding level could say "My car is
running wrong" and others would nod in understanding, a mechanic will
consider this a nearly meaningless statement unless one begins to break
it down into engine versus running gear, and so on.  

So in a similar fashion, a person might say to her companion, "war is
wrong" and the companion would nod in perfect understanding and
agreement, not even thinking to ask whether the statement meant that war
is ineffective, war is irrational, or that war is immoral.  If pressed,
she might say that she really sees no significant difference.

On a different level, a bit further outside today's mainstream, a "car"
is an instance of vehicular technology capable of moving humans and
their cargo under individual operator control.  To a person thinking in
this mode, most relevant factors may include the ratio of vehicle mass
to cargo capacity,... but I think you get the point.

I'm going to remove myself from this discussion at this time due to
diminishing returns, potential burnout by the participants, and to avoid
abuse of the common forum.  Oh, how I wish we had a an effective system
of concept mapping for these discussions.

- Jef

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