Thoughts On Rational Thinking

I just read a Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation and wanted to write down my thoughts while they were fresh. It's a detailed, and lengthy, explanation of what the world looks like through the lens of Bayesian Reasoning, which another post by the same author does a good job of explaining. There's also a long standing community called Less Wrong built around the ideas in the posts with it's own set of internal and external politics that I don't really have an interest in writing about. I'm sure they've discussed the ideas a lot, but in the sense of "the only thing new in the world is you learning about it", I'm still going to write my own impressions.

As advertised, the post gets pretty technical at points so there were some elements of it I did kind of gloss over getting a rigorously full and complete understanding of. That might change but, as it stands, my current understanding is something like "try to value ideas that accurately predict when things will or will not happen before they happen, predicting before is important, predicting accurately is important, predicting what won't happen is almost more important than what will happen, and honest assessment of accuracy is more important than being right". The post also goes into the importance of knowing a thing versus knowing the name of a thing, and being aware of magical explanations that stop us from thinking about things, even if we use sciency sounding names for those explanations.

Bayes' Theorem is the source of a lot of the ideas. My very non mathematical explanation of my understanding is "probability of a prediction being true is based on observed occurrences as they relate to possible outcomes". It's a mathematical formula that I haven't done all of the work to fully understand yet so you can take away a) it's a specific method for coming to a numerical probability, and b) I'm engaging in some amount of the magical thinking about it that the post specifically advocates against. 

I say the last part because the post advocates for a pretty hard lined way of living off of the principals in an explicitly religious sort of way. If you Believe in this way of thinking, the hard line logic says you should be a pure rationalist at all times. Lumping uncertainties into an unassailable logic group like religion is BAD, after the fact "explanation" of events is BAD, playing the lottery is BAD, and a whole slew of other activities that ignore what this pretty solid model of prediction says will happen are BAD. 

This is the idea I'm still trying to fit into my world view. The idea that if Math says it's true, you should live by it 100%, is on it's face hard to argue with. How do you realistically disagree with "there's a provably accurate model for how to rank choices"? Logically it's sound to follow that model for all choices.

It's an exhausting way to live though. The math actually goes against a lot of elements of human instinct as we understand it. Observed models of human decision making processes do not follow Bayes' theorem. People who want to follow it, have to take an extra step to contradict their natural irrationality.

This leads to a contention I have with the overall worldview, but not explicitly advocated by the post. I really like the product of a lot of irrational human behavior. People pursuing dance, opening restaurants, music, and other forms of art are not pursuing "rational" goals, but I love experiencing these things.  

Certainly it's good/right/true that some people with this kind of rational worldview live this way if they want. Those people will be incredibly productive as engineers, analysts, and other technical professions.  Society depends heavily on their work, and I certainly appreciate it.

I still have to decide how much this kind of thinking will affect my life though. There's a lot of Truth to it. I'm certainly aware of how it can aide some decision making, and it can be a defense against the ways some people and companies try to to take advantage of natural irrationality in the way people act. At the very least it's a good bed of knowledge to build on.