Rationality

Rationality: what it is, why it seems scarce, why it matters by Harvard prof Stephen Pinker is an extended sermon delivered to the choir: nicely written, technically precise, a bit slow in spots, and unlikely to convert most of its audience, since few who don't already know the topic will read it. Sadly, the book lacks a BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) or synopsis. Happily, Pinker's jokes are funny and apt. When discussing axioms of rational choice, for instance, he tells of legendary logician Sidney Morgenbesser who, as the story goes:

... was seated at a restaurant and offered a choice of apple pie or blueberry pie. Shortly after he chose apple, the waitress returned and said they also had cherry pie on the menu that day. As if waiting for the moment all his life, Morgenbesser said, "In that case, I'll have blueberry."

More useful, perhaps, and definitely shorter is Pinker's 2022-01-01 BBC news column "Three ways to be more rational this year" that zooms in:

  1. Future you – "... our problem is not that we discount the future, but that we discount it too steeply ..."
  2. "Methinks it is like a weasel" – "... We look for patterns in the kaleidoscope of experience because they may be signs of a hidden cause or agent. But this leaves us vulnerable to hallucinating spurious causes in haphazard noise. ..."
  3. Being right or getting it right – we should "... treat [our] beliefs as hypotheses to be tested rather than slogans to be defended. ..."

All worth remembering – and easier to remember than if they were part of a 300+ page tome!

(cf Thinking, Fast and Slow (2013-10-24), Future Self (2022-01-22), ...) - ^z - 2022-01-25