Rationality: From AI to Zombies


Author: Eliezer Yudkowsky

Rating: 10/10

This is a collection of essays by Eliezer Yudkowsky, that were originally published on Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias, which have since given birth to an incredible community of rationalists. Even though you can find them all here, get for free or by donation to his non-profit here, I do recommend to also buy an audio version to accompany your reading.

In Eliezer’s own words, “These essays are fumbling attempts to put into words lessons better taught by experience. But at least there’s underlying math, plus experimental evidence from cognitive psychology on how humans actually think. Maybe that will be enough to cross the stratospherically high threshold required for a discipline that lets you actually get it right, instead of just constraining you into interesting new mistakes.”

What does it actually mean to be rational? Why is that a good idea to act rationally? What prevents us from making optimal decisions? How can we fix ourselves? Do we even need fixing if we feel happy? These are just some of the questions that are being explored in the book.

It will help you understand a broad set of principles, including evolution, foundations of science, the human brain, quantum mechanics, BayesCraft, clear thinking, probability theory, and much much more.

I should mention that the Kindle version is 2393 pages long, and the audio version is 49 hours 40 minutes long, but please don’t let the length of the book scare you. It’s highly entertaining, witty and illuminating, and since it’s a collection of blog posts, you can skip some of them, and only read the ones that interest you the most (although, this is one of those rare books that I do recommend to read in its entirety.)

This is a must-read for those who want to be able to see and understand this world a bit more accurately and learn a set of tools to see everything around them in a new light.

Check on Amazon


“How much of your knowledge could you regenerate? From how deep a deletion? It’s not just a test to cast out insufficiently connected beliefs. It’s a way of absorbing a fountain of knowledge, not just one fact.”

”You shouldn’t be afraid to just visualize a world you fear. If that world is already actual, visualizing it won’t make it worse; and if it is not actual, visualizing it will do no harm.
What is true is already so; owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.”

”If in your heart you believe you already know, or if in your heart you do not wish to know, then your questioning will be purposeless and your skills without direction. Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself; there is no curiosity that does not want an answer”

”That which can be destroyed by the truth should be. People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it. Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself.”

”Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change. If we only admit small local errors, we will only make small local changes. The motivation for a big change comes from acknowledging a big mistake.”

”A doubt that neither destroys itself nor destroys its target might as well have never existed at all. It is the resolution of doubts, not the mere act of doubting, which drives the ratchet of rationality forward.”

“When you contain the source of a thought, that thought can change along with you as you acquire new knowledge and new skills. When you contain the source of a thought, it becomes truly a part of you and grows along with you.

Strive to make yourself the source of every thought worth thinking. If the thought originally came from outside, make sure it comes from inside as well. Continually ask yourself: “How would I regenerate the thought if it were deleted?” When you have an answer, imagine that knowledge being deleted as well. And when you find a fountain, see what else it can pour.”

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