The name Eliezer Yudkowsky immediately conjours in my mind the word rationality (thanks to his addictive piece of fan fiction,Â Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality). On a recent visit to his site, this connection has now be strengthened after I saw his excellent essay onÂ the twelve virtues of rationality:
- Curiosity: A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth.
- Relinquishment: Do not flinch from experiences that might destroy your beliefs.
- Lightness: Surrender to the truth as quickly as you can.
- Evenness: You are not a hypothesis, you are the judge. Therefore do not seek to argue for one side or another.
- Argument: In argument strive for exact honesty, for the sake of others and also yourself [â€¦]Do not think that fairness to all sides means balancing yourself evenly between positions; truth is not handed out in equal portions before the start of a debate.
- Empiricism: Always know which difference of experience you argue about.
- Simplicity: When you profess a huge belief with many details, each additional detail is another chance for the belief to be wrong.
- Humility: To be humble is to take specific actions in anticipation of your own errors.
- Perfectionism: The more errors you correct in yourself, the more you notice.
- Precision: More can be said about a single apple than about all the apples in the world. The narrowest statements slice deepest.
- Scholarship: Each field that you consume makes you larger.
- The Void
I believe that the ninth virtue, perfectionism, is the most elegant and I implore you to read the full essay if only to read that description in full (and, I guess, to discover what The Void is). However the eleventh virtue of rationality, scholarship, almost perfectly describes why I write here and may go some way to explaining my diverse reading habits:
Study many sciences and absorb their power as your own. Each field that you consume makes you larger. If you swallow enough sciences the gaps between them will diminish and your knowledge will become a unified whole. If you are gluttonous you will become vaster than mountains. It is especially important to eat math and science which impinges upon rationality: Evolutionary psychology, heuristics and biases, social psychology, probability theory, decision theory. But these cannot be the only fields you study. The Art must have a purpose other than itself, or it collapses into infinite recursion.