The Twelve Virtues of the Wise
Always on the lookout for that obscure source that might light the fire of insight, I read through much of “Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk” by Eliezer Yudkowsky, and was soon, like the white rabbit, or perhaps Alice herself, wondering around works that shed a new light on my own troubles, that of developing or maintaining rationality during these mischievous times, and I came across this:
From “Twelve Virtues of Rationality” by Eliezer Yudkowsky and later summarised by Quaerendo and available in a very useful PDF form.
The context is the becoming of rationality and these 12 virtues could and perhaps should be taught to every child, or failing that, pinned to the wall in every workplace.
- Curiosity: a burning itch to relinquish your ignorance, and to know.
- Relinquishment: not flinching from experiences that might destroy your beliefs, but evaluating beliefs before arriving at emotions. P.C. Hodgell said, “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.”
- Lightness: being quick to follow the evidence wherever it leads and surrendering to the truth. Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf, with no direction of your own.
- Evenness: not being selective about which arguments you inspect for flaws or attending only to favourable evidence. Use reason, not rationalisation.
- Argument: to strive for exact honesty rather than thinking it “fair” to balance yourself evenly between positions. Do not avoid arguing when truth is not handed out in equal portions before a debate.
- Empiricism: asking not which beliefs to profess, but which experiences to anticipate. Base your knowledge in the roots of observation and the fruits of prediction.
- Simplicity: keeping additional specifications to a minimum. Each additional detail is another chance for the belief to be wrong or the plan to fail.
- Humility: to take specific actions in anticipation of your own errors in your beliefs and plans. You are fallible, but do not boast of modesty.
- Perfectionism: always seeking to do better so that you do not halt before taking your first steps, and settling for no less than the answer that is perfectly right. The more errors you correct in yourself, the more you notice, and the more you can advance.
- Precision: to shift your beliefs by exactly the right amount in response to each piece of evidence, in accordance with probability theory. Narrower statements expose themselves to a stricter test, and are more useful.
- Scholarship: studying many sciences and absorbing their power as your own, especially those that impinge upon rationality. Consume fields like decision theory, psychology, and more.
- Before these eleven virtues is the nameless virtue: to above all carry your map through to reflecting the territory, not by asking whether it is “the Way” to do this or that, or by believing the words of the Great Teacher, but by asking whether the sky is blue or green. Every step of your reasoning must cut through to the correct answer. If you fail to achieve a correct answer, it is futile to protest that you acted with propriety.
I hope it’s of some use.