Quote of the day–Sean Flynn

What we’re looking for is good enough and on time. By short-circuiting the big questions and providing ready answers, religion makes decision-making fast. In this sense, a good, rigid ideology works the same way. Judgements can be made fast. Your OODA loop is tighter. Your observations are colored, but you can decide and act faster than someone who is weighing all the facts carefully and checking himself for bias. It’s sort of like why CoreWars was short-lived. It turned out that the winning strategy was to have a tight loop that shat all over memory at random.

Obviously there are limits to my argument. Components of Islam and Taoism stunted the development of science and later on put those cultures at an evolutionary disadvantage vs the West. It remains to be seen if the West has become too rational for its own good in the long term.

Sean Flynn
January 15, 2010
Comment to Environmentalism as a religion.
[With that bit of insight the comment thread completely stopped. I think everyone else realized they were out of their league.

Nice job Sean.–Joe]


3 thoughts on “Quote of the day–Sean Flynn

  1. It is very good. I’d pick just one little bone; being too rational for our own good doesn’t quite make sense to me. Being rational in an irrational world might have no worse outcome than being irrational in an irrational world. If irrationality holds sway, the result is ruin whether or not you happen to be one of the rational. It would depend on the balance of power or influence.

    Surely too, rationality sees what irrationality is capable of, and rationality includes addressing threats according to their severity and without dithering. Take the rational out of the equation altogether and you still end up with strife and ruin.

    So I might propose three scenarios and their outcomes;
    The irrational exist with no significant numbers of rational present = Ruin.
    The irrational exist along with the rational, but still outnumber or out sway them = Ruin.
    The irrational exist along with the rational, but the rational hold influence = Prosperity.

    By that admittedly simple definition, in the conflict between the rational and the irrational, ruin is twice as likely as prosperity, all other factors being equal. But we’re all born both ignorant and driven by emotions, so irrationality is going to be the default position.

    Human history has been described as a series of long periods of stagnation and deadly conflict, punctuated by a few brief moments of peace and prosperity.

    Again and as always, education is key. The irrational American Left owns it at the moment.

  2. I won’t argue with what you’re saying here, Lyle. Instead, I’ll try to clarify my premise and my question.

    I’m not arguing about mindless irrationality vs. reason. Where on the continuum is the Darwinian sweet spot? Western humanism has it way towards the rational end. Recent history suggests we’ve been pretty close. But what if we had an adversary that was slightly closer, and on the other side of that sweet spot? Who enjoyed many of the benefits of a reason-based society, without paying as much of the tax?

    Can we be too rational for our own good? I think so. To illustrate, I’ll take some extreme examples from science fiction. One trope is humanity confronting absolutely logical mechanical beings who possess the power to destroy us and who are absolutely logical and rational. The stories have a happy ending when the clever humans lead the machines into some Gödelian knot or liar’s paradox that trap the machines in a set facts that have contradictory resolutions. The writers of these stories are satisfying an emotional need of their audience. The audience wants to be reassured that there’s something magical about humanity that can transcend the power of the world’s cause-and-effect engine. For all their fancifulness, these stories are touching on some of the deeper problems in logic and mathematics that have haunted computer science. Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Turing’s halting problem. NP completeness. Human intelligence, as far as we know, can’t get trapped the way a purely rational system can. Our limited capacity for reason is an evolutionary boon in that respect.

    Okay, so I’ve staked-out the far end of the spectrum, but I’ve resorted to a counterfactual example of machine intelligence. Back to my question. It’s a question because I don’t know where the benefits of reason outweigh the costs. A reasonable person does not leap to judgment. He takes time to gather facts, explore hypotheticals, apply logic, weigh arguments, evaluate fairness, consider subjectivity, etc. In the course of doing so, he probably takes a fair amount of time. The less reasonable person skips some or all these steps. If these two people are playing chess, the reasonable person wins out (and Deep Blue prevails over Grand Masters). But few contests are games of full information where the players take turns. Most run in real time with very imperfect information. In those sorts of contests, being able to make great moves in time t may not be enough to prevail over an adversary who makes weaker moves twice as often. The first player wastes less resources because his reasoned insight allows him to avoid mistakes. The second player makes more mistakes, learns from some of them, and has more chances to score.

  3. This ability of religion (or other tools) has both advantages and disadvantages. One thing that’s crucial to incorporate into your thought process is the difference between believing and accepting something. Being convinced of the authority of the Catholic Church, I accept that the Virgin Mary is Co-Redemptrix because the Church says so, even though my Evangelical background makes it hard for me to truly believe it. The same goes for a doubt/deny distinction. It can also be tempting to run your OODA loop constantly, rather than taking the time to examine your premises, either independently or with a skeptic.

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