1. Argue against the best

    To argue against an idea honestly, you should argue against the best arguments of the strongest advocates.

    It’s all too easy to argue that someone is exhibiting Bias #182 in your repertoire of fully generic accusations, but you can’t settle a factual issue without closer evidence. If there are biased reasons to say the sun is shining, that doesn’t make it dark out.

  2. Let the meaning choose the word

    What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.

    Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations.

  3. Knowing the design

    Knowing the design can tell you much about the designer; and knowing the designer can tell you much about the design.

  4. Cutting through to the truth

    The essential thing in the art of epistemic rationality is to understand how every rule is cutting through to the truth in the same movement.

    Your sword has no blade. It has only your intention. When that goes astray you have no weapon.

    1. ​Your intention to cut​
  5. Joy in the merely attainable

    But the really fundamental problem with desiring the unattainable is that as soon as you actually get it, it stops being unattainable. If we cannot take joy in the merely available, our lives will always be frustrated.

  6. Taboo your words

    Albert says that people have “free will.” Barry says that people don’t have “free will.” Well, that will certainly generate an apparent conflict. Most philosophers would advise Albert and Barry to try to define exactly what they mean by “free will,” on which topic they will certainly be able to discourse at great length. I would advise Albert and Barry to describe what it is that they think people do, or do not have, without using the phrase “free will” at all.

  7. Your map of reality

    Reality is very large—just the part we can see is billions of lightyears across. But your map of reality is written on a few pounds of neurons, folded up to fit inside your skull. I don’t mean to be insulting, but your skull is tiny. Comparatively speaking. Inevitably, then, certain things that are distinct in reality, will be compressed into the same point on your map. But what this feels like from inside is not that you say, “Oh, look, I’m compressing two things into one point on my map.” What it feels like from inside is that there is just one thing, and you are seeing it.

  8. What you're trying to swim

    There is an art to using words; even when definitions are not literally true or false, they are often wiser or more foolish. Dictionaries are mere histories of past usage; if you treat them as supreme arbiters of meaning, it binds you to the wisdom of the past, forbidding you to do better. Though do take care to ensure (if you must depart from the wisdom of the past) that people can figure out what you’re trying to swim.

  9. Applause lights

    Most applause lights are much more blatant, and can be detected by a simple reversal test.

    For example, suppose someone says: We need to balance the risks and opportunities of AI.
    If you reverse this statement, you get: We shouldn’t balance the risks and opportunities of AI.

    Since the reversal sounds abnormal, the unreversed statement is probably normal, implying it does not convey new information. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for uttering a sentence that would be uninformative in isolation. “We need to balance the risks and opportunities of AI” can introduce a discussion topic; it can emphasize the importance of a specific proposal for balancing; it can criticize an unbalanced proposal. Linking to a normal assertion can convey new information to a bounded rationalist—the link itself may not be obvious. But if no specifics follow, the sentence is probably an applause light.

  10. Reality just seems to go on crunching

    I once met a fellow who thought that if you used General Relativity to compute a low-velocity problem, like an artillery shell, General Relativity would give you the wrong answer—not just a slow answer, but an experimentally wrong answer—because at low velocities, artillery shells are governed by Newtonian mechanics, not General Relativity. This is exactly how physics does not work. Reality just seems to go on crunching through General Relativity, even when it only makes a difference at the fourteenth decimal place, which a human would regard as a huge waste of computing power. Physics does it with brute force. No one has ever caught physics simplifying its calculations—or if someone did catch it, the Matrix Lords erased the memory afterward.

  11. Mystery exists in the mind

    Mystery exists in the mind, not in reality. If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself. All the more so if it seems like no possible answer can exist: Confusion exists in the map, not in the territory. Unanswerable questions do not mark places where magic enters the universe. They mark places where your mind runs skew to reality.

    1. ​The Tao of rationality​
  12. Lost purposes

    There’s chocolate at the supermarket, and you can get to the supermarket by driving, and driving requires that you be in the car, which means opening your car door, which needs keys. If you find there’s no chocolate at the supermarket, you won’t stand around opening and slamming your car door because the car door still needs opening. I rarely notice people losing track of plans they devised themselves.

    It’s another matter when incentives must flow through large organizations—or worse, many different organizations and interest groups, some of them governmental. Then you see behaviors that would mark literal insanity, if they were born from a single mind. Someone gets paid every time they open a car door, because that’s what’s measurable; and this person doesn’t care whether the driver ever gets paid for arriving at the supermarket, let alone whether the buyer purchases the chocolate, or whether the eater is happy or starving.

    1. ​So many tactics, so well entrenched​