A curriculum for meta-rationality )(What they don’t teach you at STEM school) | Meaningness – and some summary posts on David Chapman’s ideas

Other links:

To quote from https://meaningness.com/fluidity-preview/comments:

[I distinguish] three sources of “nebulosity”: linguistic ambiguity, epistemological uncertainty, and ontological indefiniteness. The first two are “problems in the map” and the third is “problems in the territory.”

Generally, it seems rationalism tries to deal with the map problems, and ignores the territory problems. (The “Guide to Words” is about linguistic ambiguity; and Bayes/decision theory/etc. are about epistemological uncertainty.)

“Fluidity” or “meta-rationality” is about territory “problems.” That is, the world is inherently fluid/mushy/vague, independent of any being’s beliefs about it.

I don’t know of any discussion by rationalists of ontological indefiniteness. The unstated background assumption seems to be that the world is perfectly well-behaved: facts are definitely true or false. It is just stuff in our brains (language and beliefs) that are imperfect.

Ontological remodelling – it’s not just that ‘the map is not the territory’, it’s that the territory is inherently fluid/mushy/vague: https://meaningness.com/eggplant/remodeling

How do we know? https://meaningness.com/metablog/meta-systematic-judgement

Nebulosity and pattern: https://meaningness.com/monism-dualism-recursion

Monism and dualism are opposites. But because each is obviously wrong, each turns into the other when cornered. A devious trick!

Monism is the stance that fixates sameness and connections, and denies differences and boundaries. Dualism is just the other way around: it denies sameness and connections, and fixates differences and boundaries.

Both these confused stances sometimes show themselves to be obviously wrong. The complete stance of participation recognizes that samenesses and differences, boundaries and connections, are all real, but also always somewhat nebulous: ambiguous and fluid. This is obviously accurate, but usually less convenient. Monism and dualism are simpler, and deliver particular emotional payoffs—some of the time.

not eternalism or nihilism but meaningness, not monism or dualism but participation, not causality or chaos but flow: https://meaningness.com/all-dimensions-schematic-overview

Pattern: https://meaningness.com/pattern

Nebulosity: https://meaningness.com/nebulosity

Terminology: emptiness and form, nebulosity and pattern: https://meaningness.com/terminology/emptiness-form-nebulosity-pattern

Pattern and nebulosity on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast: https://meaningness.com/metablog/deconstructing-yourself-6

Pattern and Nebulosity, with David Chapman


The syllabus for a curriculum teaching meta-rational skills: how to evaluate, combine, modify, discover, and create effective systems.

Source: What they don’t teach you at STEM school | Meaningness

This post sketches a hypothetical curriculum for developing these meta-systematic capabilities. It’s preliminary; perhaps even premature. There is no existing presentation of this subject that I know of, which makes it more difficult than it should be. My understanding of the topic draws on a dozen academic disciplines, each written in its own unnecessarily obscure code. Both my understanding, and the pedagogical structure I’m proposing, are tentative and incomplete.

Partly this presentation hopes to inspire some readers to pursue meta-systematicity; partly it is a plan for a large project that I hope to pursue myself; partly I hope you will give feedback, make suggestions, or contribute ideas to the project too!

Goal and audience

The overall goal is to take you from systematic rationality to meta-rationality as quickly and painlessly as possible. The curriculum should re-present insights I’ve found in many semi-relevant fields, as clearly and simply as possible, in STEM-friendly terms, in a structured, sequential format.

Learning meta-systematic skills shouldn’t be so hard, and meta-systematic understanding is particularly valuable in STEM. It is inherently somewhat conceptually difficult; but probably not as difficult as, say, senior-year undergraduate physics. However, it does have cognitive prerequisites.

This curriculum is for people who have mastered systematic rationality, specifically in a STEM framework. For the most part, you have to have a thorough understanding of how to work within systems before it’s feasible to step up and out of them, to manipulate them from above. There are other routes to mastering systematic rationality—through experience as a manager in a bureaucratic organization, for instance—but this curriculum will assume a STEM background.

The minimum requirement might be an undergraduate STEM degree; but research experience at the graduate level may be needed. You have to have seen how many different systems work, and—more importantly—how they fail. At the undergraduate level, you are mainly shielded from the failures, and systems get presented as though they were Absolute Truth. Or, at least, they are taught as though Absolute Truth lurks somewhere in the vicinity, obscured only by complex details. Recognizing that there is no Absolute Truth anywhere is a small downpayment on the price of entry to meta-systematicity.

That may already have set off warning bells. Woomeisters and postmodernists say things like that—and if you think they are horribly wrong, I agree!

This curriculum is about how to do STEM better. It is not about taking you out of a STEM worldview into some alternative. Everything here is on top of that view. It addresses limitations in the way STEM is typically taught and practiced, but does not contradict any of its content. There is no woo involved—including no STEM-flavored woo, such as neurobabble or quantum or Gödel woo.

In fact, a critical step is letting go of some of STEM’s own woo—quasi-religious beliefs about the ability of rationality to deliver certaintyunderstanding, and control. For that letting-go, the meta-systematic mode demands that one develop an additional cognitive style. Routine STEM is easy for those who are precise and rigid of mind, and so find promises of certainty, understanding, and control particularly comforting. Meta-systematicity requires openness, flexibility, daring, and uncommonly realistic common sense—as well as technical precision.

I’ll begin with some preliminary definitions, and provide a brief overview of the curriculum. Then most of the page goes through the syllabus, organized into ten modules, in more detail. That is still just a summary, which may be difficult to make sense of on its own. I’ve included in it links to resources that provide more explanation; some of my own web pages, and articles and books by others. At this stage in the project, even these leave many holes, which I hope to fill gradually. Many of the books are seriously difficult reading; the hypothetical curriculum would extract and explain clearly their relevant points.

Some loose definitions

By system, I mean, roughly, a collection of related concepts and rules that can be printed in a book of less than 10kg and followed consciously. A rational system is one that is “good” in some way. There are many different conceptions of what makes a system rational. Logical consistency is one; decision-theoretic criteria can form another. The details don’t matter here, because we are going to take rationality for granted.

Meta-systematic cognition is reasoning about, and acting on, systems from outside them, without using a system to do so. (Reasoning about systems using another system is systematic, and meta, but not “meta-systematic” in this sense.1) Meta-rationality, then, is “good” meta-systematic cognition. Mostly I use the terms interchangeably.

One field I draw on is the empirical psychology of adult development, as investigated by Robert Kegan particularly. This framework describes systematic rationality as stage 4 in the developmental path. Stage 5 is meta-systematic. However, as far as I know, no one from this discipline has applied the stage theory to STEM competence specifically. Empirical study of cognitive development in graduate-level STEM students would be helpful,2 but in the absence of that I’m working from a combination of first principles, bits of theory taken from many apparently-unrelated disciplines, anecdata, and personal experience.

According to this framework, there is also a stage 4.5, in which you lose the quasi-religious belief in systems, but haven’t yet developed the meta-systematic understanding that can replace blind faith. Stage 4.5 leaves you vulnerable to nihilism, including ontological despair (nothing seems true), epistemological anxiety (nothing seems knowable), and existential depression (nothing seems meaningful). It’s common to get stuck at 4.5, which is awful.

Continues in source: What they don’t teach you at STEM school | Meaningness