Rationality, Levels of Intervention, and Empiricism

Introduction

This post is first about optimizing the intellectual performance of a community. I describe a number of “levels” at which one might try to intervene, or set up rules or practices. For clarity and evocativeness, I start with a somewhat analogous challenge, that of getting a classroom of children to behave well. I describe levels of intervention there, and then look at the same levels of intervention in the context of the challenge of producing intellectually productive groups.

I. Levels of intervention

Imagine that you have a classroom of children that you want to behave well. Maybe there are 30 children in the classroom. You could think of the children as individual nodes, each of which operates some way internally and then interacts with the others.

II. Consequences of choosing wrong

In the case of the children, it is quite clear that there are consequences for intervening on the wrong level. Imagine that in our classroom of 30 children, you decide to try to get the children to police their thoughts so that they only have good, well-behaved-child thoughts. We can easily imagine worlds with notably different outcomes:

III. An empirical matter

Of course, one will say, the answer is to intervene at the right levels and not the wrong ones, to combine the levels in the right way, and so forth.

IV. Different approaches to rationality

I expect there to be strange and hard-to-understand relations between mental practices and mental outputs. This is highly plausible at least from the outside view.

V. Notes

[1] One avenue to explore: By having many beliefs, one has greater surface area with which to receive instruction from reality. This may lead to beliefs that are, on the whole, more reality-conforming, even if the probability of individual errors increases.

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Geoff Anders

Geoff Anders

Philosopher, research program designer.