Mundane Magic

  • Part of the rationalist ethos is to bring yourself to believe emotionally in an absolutely lawful, reductionist universe
  • Instead of looking for supernatural magic, try to see the magic and wonder in existing reality
  • Rationality is the “ultimate power”, allowing one to “see the future” and “manipulate probability”


  • Scarcity is a term in social psychology that makes things more desirable as they become more difficult to obtain
  • People desire things more when they’re forbidden from having them
  • Information is subject to this effect - people become more sympathetic towards a particular viewpoint when they hear that it’s been banned
  • This is due to psychological reactance - people tend to try even harder to do something when you tell them that they can’t do it
  • This reflex may have served us well in the ancestral environment but it’s easily taken advantage of in modern society
  • The problem with desiring the unattainable is that the moment you get it, it’s no longer unattainable

Angry Atoms

  • Our ordinary experience is far removed from the fundamental level of atoms and fundamental physical forces
  • How can we explain emotion and free-will when we’re composed of deterministic atoms?
  • The key is to visualize how collections of atoms can be turned into decision-making components, and how those components can be combined to execute particular algorithms
  • This is a huge inferential gap, but it can be crossed if you accept what science is telling you and remain skeptical about trusting your perspective/intuition

Heat vs. Motion

  • Another example of a huge inferential gap is the notion of heat
  • Today we understand that heat and kinetic energy are the same thing, this is not an obviously true fact about the world
  • People modeled heat and motion as two separate things, and this confused them into thinking that heat and motion were two separate entities in the world
  • It took a major leap of insight to understand that heat and motion were the same thing, even though they appeared in two apparently separate guises
  • Reductionism is easy, but actually reducing the world into its fundamental components is enormously difficult

A Priori

  • The notion of a priori truths or beliefs is a dodge - in a deterministic, reductionist universe, everything has to have a cause
  • There is no such thing as an “arbitrary” belief in this universe - there are no gods to imbue these beliefs through divine inspiration
  • The reason a Bayesian rationalist accepts Occam’s Razor is not because of an a priori belief that simpler theories are true, but because simpler theories do a better job of explaining the universe
  • Look at rationality as a machine rather than an argument - whatever makes the machine generate correct predictions about the world is rational