What does rationality look like, anyway?

There’s a great explanation of rationality here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iloTS0wU9qM

In summary there are 2.5 legs of rationality. The 1.5th leg is called Epistemic Rationality, which is: “What do you know, and how do you know it?”. The 2nd leg is Instrumental Rationality, which is: “How should your behavior reflect your beliefs?”.

For example, if you believe that taking vitamin C will not prevent you from catching a cold (Epistemic Rationality), then it would be irrational to keep taking vitamin C (Instrumental Rationality).

What would you say, if you saw someone hitting themselves on the head with a hammer? “Why would anyone do such a thing?”
Could we conclude that this person is irrational? Not quite yet.

First, we’d have to assume that they knew what they were doing, and were doing it on purpose. If they were somehow unaware of the dangers, or accidentally hitting themselves, it wouldn’t be irrational…


Then, we’d have to know their goals. If they were under the impression that hitting yourself on the head with a hammer would make you smarter, then they would actually be quite rational indeed! They would lack Epistemic Rationality, but certainly not Instrumental Rationality. If they knew that hitting themselves in the head would cause permanent brain damage, but they were desperate to avoid getting drafted into the army, then they would have both Epistemic Rationality and Instrumental Rationality. Just because they don’t share our goals does not make them irrational. Sometimes their goals are a mystery to us, but we should not be quick to assume they are irrational. Just because we don’t know the reason, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Voting for Dump or Hillbilly doesn’t necessarily highlight you as irrational. It’s just like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. You might lack Epistemic Rationality, but you certainly don’t lack Instrumental Rationality. Based on what you know, you did exactly what you thought would bring you the results you wanted. If anything, you deserve a high-five. Go you! You have some work to do, but don’t we all. Keep up the good work.