one like = one tweet relating to postrats in some form. who knows where this might go? (max 100 tweets, no purchase necessary, entry limit of at most one like per account, tweets have no cash value)

1. The obvious stuff first: "postrat" contains a prefix "post-" applied to a root "rat". The root refers to the "rationalist" community. Thus, postrats have an intrinsic tie to the rationalists.

2. The prefix "post-" in "postrat" means "subsequent to", "after", etc. So the postrat is distinguished by means of a spatial or temporal metaphor in relation to the rat: postrat is perhaps "what happens to a person after rationalism" or "a philosophy subsequent to rationalism".

3. Thus, "post" in "postrat" means some aspects of the person or philosophy have "moved past" rationalism, while other aspects have remained stable. What's different and what is the same? What changes if we talk about "a postrat" vs "postrat philosophy"?

4. For now I will bracket the question of "what makes one a rat or postrat" and address the philosophical component. I can describe the core of rat philosophy with the following terms: scientific-empiricist, skeptical, rationalist (duh), and universalist hedonic utilitarian.

5. I will elaborate on each term to sketch out what I see as the fundamental rat philosophy. Scientific-empiricist: empiricism as the fundamental mode of knowledge, often restricted tightly to scientific studies performed properly.

6. Skepticism: rats take a highly skeptical attitude toward knowledge, to such an extent that scientific studies which pass the bar of scrutiny are often (but not always) considered more reliable than knowledge gained from experience.

7. Rationalist: the rats are rationalist in the classic sense (which I will not be using throughout!) in that they attempt to apply reasoning to their conscious knowledge in order to determine how to act and what to believe.

8. This rationalist attitude of the rats is rather uncommon in the modern world, thanks to the popularity of hermeneutics of suspicion (e.g. "false consciousness", "the unconscious", etc) which draw into question the contents of our conscious knowledge.

9. Interestingly, the rats have their own quasi-hermeneutics of suspicion, in the form of "biases", which they consciously apply in order to achieve a higher standard of world-modelling capability thru reason.

10. The "rationalism" of the rats is likely responsible for their various attempts to create organizations and do activism (EA, etc): they want to manifest in reality their conclusions reached through reason. But how do they ground these conclusions, what is their ethics?

11. I call the rat ethics "universalist hedonic utilitarianism". Simply: utilitarianism = "maximize utility (well-being, goodness) in the world" hedonic = "conscious pleasure experience is good, suffering is bad" universalist = "everyone (or thing?) is subject to this ethics"

12. The rationalist strain of universalist hedonic utilitarianism (UHA) varies according to who you ask, and is often a negative utilitarianism (only minimizing suffering matters). But it always retains a focus (via modern theory of mind) on "states of suffering" as bad.

13. UHA has lead to interesting internal philosophical arguments, like: to what extent is the pain of animals comparable to humans? Can we convert between them? Can non-animals experience suffering? (incl. the infamous debate about whether atoms can suffer)

14. An element of rationalist philosophy that comes up a lot is the emphasis on Bayesian reasoning, as described in Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Sequences", a foundational text. It's an attempt to fix a "rationality deficit": _people are bad at understanding and applying statistics_.

15. The final element of the rationalist philosophy I'd like to address, and also the most controversial, is rationalist *eschatology*, in the sense of "man's final destiny". In particular, rationalists are concerned about *existential risks* (x-risks).

16. The rationalist philosophy posits, via thinkers like Nick Bostrom, that the rise of artificial intelligence has potential to destroy the world. A common thought experiment is the "paperclip maximizer", a paperclip-making AI that "accidentally" kills everyone in the process.

17. In a sense, the point of the philosophical ground in skepticism and rationality and UHU is to provide tools for modeling the entire world, such that, when universal AI comes, we might know how to avoid this paperclip end of the world.

----I will pause here before returning to the postrats----

18. Jk, first I need to talk about community structure. The rationalist community has for over a decade converged around user-submitted content on the site LessWrong: Yudkowsky's Sequences were originally posted there.

19. Several long-running blogs have emerged from or intersected with this rationalist community space, such as Robin Hanson's "Overcoming Bias" and Scott Alexander's "Slate Star Codex"

20. The Rationalist community itself tends to converge in social spaces built around these main points of reference. There is a whole rationalist Tumblr sphere, and the public Slatestarcodex discord was my first point of entry into this world.

21. The result of the major centralization of written material in the rationalist space, combined with directly associated social channels, is that a set of strong common beliefs can form, a general picture of which I gave above.

22. This emergence of consensus on the Rationalist sphere is aided by their conversational norms: these spaces prize dispassionate intellectual conversation, as so to permit consideration of diverse topics that may fall outside the realm of social acceptability.

23. This willingness to avoid consideration of social acceptability has led to attacks on the Rationalist community. Media sources or motivated individuals (/r/sneerclub) love to accuse the discourse of ThoughtCrime. Scott Alexander has written about his suffering as a result.

24. Our first point of departure into postrat is in terms of community structure. There is no postrat equivalent to LessWrong, thus the postrats lack a real canon. Some postrat blogs exist (e.g. but most discourse is on Twitter or in group chats.

25. Lacking a canon, a defining set of postrat views is hard to pin down. The typical postrat has negated at least one of the above rationalist qualities (either consciously or not), but which one they choose to negate varies.

26. Ironically, this lack of definite ideology has become a key feature, perhaps THE defining feature, of the postrat community: "postrat doesn't mean anything!"

27. In practice, the main negations focus on the scientific-rational elements, leading postrats to think about topics such as phenomenology, ritual, meaning, etc, which cannot be easily studied experimentally or quantitatively.

28. Most postrats also reject the eschatological claims of the rats, but not all. Many are skeptical of our actual ability to build a general AI, likely as a result of the tangles one finds when studying phenomenology and psychology.

29. A major element of discussion in the postrat sphere is the idea of "meaning". What matters anyway? If you remove the grand threat of a world-ending AI, this is a perfectly reasonable and common question to ask in our alienated world.

30. But we must still ask: why is the question of meaning of such great concern within the postrat community? What sorts of people are attracted to the rats, and what leads them eventually to the postrats? Are any of the solutions effective?

----to be continued after dinner----

31. To continue, I want to sketch a general portrait of a rat turned postrat. This does not apply to everyone, as there's many reasons why one might engage with the communities. But I'm basing this on personal observations from the SSC discord, rationalist meetups, etc.

32. Many rats found their way into the community through Yudkowsky's book "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", which tends to resonate most with a particular group of late teens/early 20s who read Harry Potter growing up.

33. A general portrait of a newbie rationalist: intelligent but lacking engagement with the philosophical tradition, middle or upper-middle class, tech savvy, often socially alienated irl (and thus seeking community online), in late high school, college, or recently graduated.

34. In terms of religion, the rationalists have a peculiar relationship with the new atheists, with the two groups bleeding together during the late 00s/early 10s. Many rationalists were either raised secular or rejected their familial/communal religious traditions.

35. In providing an eschatology and social circle, the rationalist community provides a meaningful community for those who seek it out. The willingness to ignore social bounds in conversation (low disgust) likely reflects a general social alienation that leads one online.

36. The most important attitudes that lead people toward postrationalism from rationalism are (a) boredom, a desire to go beyond the rat's demarcated sphere, and (b) an aesthetic distaste, as much rationalist art is somewhat contrived "nerd art" (Harry pottery fanfic?!).

37. Regarding boredom, a consequence of having a canon and a centralized point for sharing work is that the rationalist philosophy takes on an orthodox character. This is ironic, since much conversational energy in rationalist circles is spent critiquing social orthodoxy.

38. Many now-postrats, myself included, were uncomfortable with the sense of orthodoxy, of "given truths", and wanted to seek out more "interestingness" in topics that rationalists themsleves had little to say about, beyond how they were inaccessible to or solved by Science.

39. This desire for "interestingness" seemingly for its own sake is what led the "Intellectual Explorers Club" to describe postrats as "Insight Pornographers".

40. Interestingness also plays into the aesthetic preferences of the postrat sphere, who prefer to avoid the quasi-religous rationalist art in favor of less specifically targeted works, often classics or avant-garde. cf.

41. My main point is that the rationalist meaning-wellspring failed on the postrats for some reason, whether they got bored and applied too much skepticism, or whether they failed to socially integrate such that a sense of intersubjective meaning could arise.

43. As far as I can tell, meaning exists on a different plane of psychological existence than reason and rationality. I believe that the social experience of the rationalists can create meaning, but the logos of the postrats encourages a *return to the world* of experience.

44. The statistical analyses and utilitarian calculus of the rationalists may be useful in governance, but to what extent can they stir an individual to enact life changes?

45. The social impact of statistics within the rationalist sphere may spur individual changes, but lacking the sense of social integration, lacking the binding quality of intersubjective norms, data and analysis alone is neutered.

46. "William James [postrat philosopher par excellence] long ago contrasted the once-born and the twice-born; the once-born are those who unreflectively and "innocently" accept the convictions of their childhoods; ...

47. "the twice-born are those who may adhere to exactly the same convinctions, but who do so in a different way after a protracted period of doubt, criticism, and examination of those beliefs." - K. Keniston, "Youth and Dissent"

48. In my own experience, the postrat world is a place to safely undergo the "protracted period of doubt" necessary for re-emerging into the world with a reflective system of meaning. This period corresponds with @Meaningness's "stage 4.5", the nihilism of breaking one's beliefs.

@Meaningness 49. In contrast, the rationalists tacitly maintain the pre-reflective frame of late-capitalist western "bourgeois" socialization, as laid out by J. Habermas in "Legitimation Crisis", the key tenets of which include:

@Meaningness 50. [Habermas' components of "bourgeois" ideology include] achievement ideology, scientism, orientation to exchange value, post-auratic ("aura-less") art, and universalistic utilitarianism. Do these not resemble the motivational and aesthetic principles of the rationalists?

@Meaningness 51. Habermas sees this system of bourgeois ideology as failing in western society (circa the early 70s), causing a "motivational crisis". From this frame, the rationalist echatology can be seen as an ingenious attempt to reestablish meaning from within this pre-existing ideology.

@Meaningness 52. This "hidden" ideological aspect of the rationalist community is borne out in the "standard" modernist-technocratic (left) or liberal-libertarian (right) politics of many rationalists I spoke to. Initiatives like EA fall neatly into the technocratic paradigm.

@Meaningness 53. Thus we might view the (conscious or unconscious) force driving individuals from rationalism to postrationalism as a desire to develop a reflective stance on the world. Many postrats I know have similar politics to rats, but with better groundings & more idiosyncracies.

@Meaningness 54. This supports my earlier thesis of "returning to the world". The only way to develop a reflective worldview is to "know oneself", and self-knowledge can only be achieved through individualized experience and reflective thought.

@Meaningness 55. The postrat criterion of "interestingness" can be seen from a Fristonian perspective as "finding the thing which most violates your priors". Truly interesting experiences have potential to shift one's priors, which manifests as personal growth (or trauma).

@Meaningness 56. This interestingness-mediated view of belief is a departure from the rationalist view, in which a good argument is sufficient to change one's perspective. Arguments can be interesting, and thus they can effect you, but the most interesting things are not arguments.

@Meaningness 57. Bringing this back to the beginning, we can see now that postrationalism is indeed an attempt to move "beyond" the rationalist (unreflective) ideology, to become "post-rational". This places it within the ancient lineage of self-knowledge practices.

@Meaningness 58. But as with all quests toward self-knowledge, each individual's journey is truly their own. For this reason, I wonder if a "real" postrat canon would act as an impediment, an attempt to apply one-size-fits-all reasoning to a many-shaped problem.

@Meaningness 59. A better solution than a canon may be a network of relationships between readings, with certain nodes made larger due to readership or qualitative importance. But crystallizing the set of readings might impede the bottom-up, organic nature of community development.

@Meaningness 60. It would befit the postrat perspective to avoid top-down community planning, as criticized in the semi-canonical (lol) favorite "Seeing like a State". This justifies why much of the postrat world is simply mutuals on Twitter.

@Meaningness ----calling it a night, I'll pick this up tomorrow, although not sure where to go with it (maybe, failure modes of postrationality?), or whether I got things right or just projected my own experience onto the subculture. anyway, goodnight and good work making it this far!!----

61. I will finish this long-dead thread with a critique of "postrats". In order to do this, I must be clear that I'm not critiquing the "postrat community", the collection of individuals involved. For that alone, one has no justification.

62. Instead, I will be critiquing the "institution" of "postrat philosophy", as defined by its "language game", specifically in terms of its "interestingness" criterion I mentioned earlier.

63. Background first: in his text "The Postmodern Condition", pulling from Wittgenstein, Lyotard defines "institutions" in terms of language games, that is, the set of constraints on statements which might be considered "part of the game".

64. So, for example, the institution of "Science" is defined by its language game, that binds all statements to the denotative form: "X is Y", with "truth value" being the criterion for acceptability, as bounded by verifiability and falsifiability etc.

65. The result of the Scientific language game is the production of knowledge, particularly "scientific knowledge", which can be regarded as tied to the institution in question unless independently verified through experience (i.e. "natural science").

66. Note that we cannot treat "scientific knowledge" as an abstraction, known by some unidentified "Spirit of Science". It is knowledge known by particular individuals who are embedded within the social network of Science, either as researchers, or readers, or journalists.

67. Similarly, "postrat philosophy" produces knowledge in its participants across its social graph, the blog-post writers and readers and twitter trolls who engage with the language game.

68. Being a form of "philosophy" and not "science", the constraints I described above do not hold for "postrat philosophy"; there is no necessary form of statement, no supplementary constraints on verifiability, etc, at least not explicitly.

69. The lack of constraints on "postrat philosophy" is not necessarily a bad thing, as it's similar to all other forms of philosophy, where subfields emerge with different but related games.

70. Rationalist philosophy does, however, assert a sort of "scientific character", where the writing displays a similar style to Science in terms of expecting generally denotative statements and quibbling about verification.

71. But as /r/sneerclub may note, one's selection of topics and treatment of abstract statistical data can mask an underlying emotional logic beyond the pure "love of knowledge/God" which motivated the Enlightenment, the birthplace of modern Science.

72. The rationalists have been critiqued plenty along the lines of "they claim to be dispassionate but their choice of research within the 'social sciences' betrays their very real, individual, human, political concerns."

73. Postrat philosophy oftentimes attempts to avoid this failure by moving away from hard statistical and "typifying" studies and toward more "generally philosophical" topics like phenomenology, which exist outside of Science's constraints.

74. The postrat move toward phenomenology and more "traditional" philosophical fields raises a new set of concerns.

75. By selecting a relatively new canon composed of heterogeneous works, and generally avoiding "old" philosophy, postrat thought lacks a proper philosophical grounding, in terms of recourse to a small set of principles.

76. A good amount of postrat philosophy relies on "evolutionary logic", i.e. using anthropological research to justify psychological and sociological theories. This is akin to Yudkowsky's usage of "AI thought experiments" to justify his own work.

77. Note that reliance on "evolutionary logic" is not just a postrat thing; plenty of academic work has done and does this same thing.

78. The problem with evolutionary logic is that it's a self-justifying story; one might be wrong without even knowing one is wrong, unless one makes a concerted effort toward a Scientific-minded demonstration of its truth.

79. In the event of being asked for justification, evolutionarily-minded postrats turn to Scientific statistical research, and ultimately recreate the same mistake made by the Rationalists: the human concerns are shielded by "facts" rather than addressed directly.

80. There is another space of postrat thought, though, which does not rely on evolutionary logic for grounding. This space tends more explicitly toward "pure" philosophy, drawing from religious traditions.

81. The move away from "Scientific justification" raises a different and deeper set of possible concerns, involving the relationship between the reader, the writer, and the content.

82. We can ask the question "why does anybody read philosophy?" My generous answer tends to be "for the purposes of understanding, bringing to light one's 'unconscious biases', and the potential for overturning one's worldview, resulting in personal change."

83. Of course, some read philosophy to win online arguments and gain status within communities, and others read philosophy to feel justified in what they already believe, but I'm talking best case scenarios here.

84. When you enter a philosophical "rabbit hole" with intent of learning about yourself and affecting personal change from within, one generally wants the rabbit hole to be broad and deep.

85. Each person has different needs, different ideas that will speak to them, and one can follow trails of books and citations quite far within the "western canon" of philosophical work.

86. I can't critique postrat philosophy on the grounds that "it's too small of a rabbit hole", because it is, of course, a relatively new region of thought with fewer individuals working within it.

87. But I can critique postrat philosophy on the grounds that "the rabbit hole doesn't go anywhere". Many postrat works have deep similarities with historical philosophy, but few writers are willing to "send off" readers back toward the philosophical mainspring.

88. There is an inherent tension between wanting to "fix the old mistakes" of philosophy, wanting to separate oneself from history, and also wanting to invent or provide a coherent set of useful ideas for viewing the world.

89. Because of the tension involved in "fixing philosophy", it's hard to even identify the "topic" of "postrat philosophy", because the main unifying force is a small canon of "acceptable" reading, and a desire to *stay away from* the rest.

90. What postrat philosophy would need to perform this feat of separation is something akin to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, a critical work sufficient and deep enough to create a new frame for thought that "opens up" an entirely new world of knowledge.

91. And it is known that Rationalist philosophy still lives under the shadow of Tractatus, the secret positivists they are.

92. Even as it attempted to "solve philosophy", Tractatus still rooted itself in advances within the "mainstream" of philosophy in symbolic logic. Frege's advances in logic came as responses to Kant, himself a major source of grounding for much present-day philosophical work.

93. Most postrat thought doesn't get to this level of abstraction. The criterion of "interestingness" means each post attempts to maintain a relevance to the median reader, fresh out of the rationalist world and unaccustomed to the "traditional" style of abstract argumentation.

94. Ultimately it is probably this stance of postrat philosophy, as the "intellectual space you go once you've started critiquing rationalism", that limits its intellectual depth.

95. And so I maintain that, as an intellectual endeavor, "postrationalism" is something that one should touch upon and move through, as one's life and development of thought grow beyond the confines of these origins.

96. I want to re-emphasize that this critique is not aimed at the community, so to speak. Many "postrats" exist who have once read "postrat philosophy" and have gone well beyond it, but still participate in the social world.

97. Perhaps I should exhort these individuals, who passed through postrat philosophy and beyond, to *write*, and guide others through the various paths they're trodden.

98. But, it is beyond the horizon of Eternal September in postrat-land. Each year new postrats arrive and others disappear. So it is a hard ask, to encourage writing within this sort of transient space.

99. All this said, I'm glad I spent my time engaging with the postrat intellectual world, reading the blogs, etc. In a way, it's almost through critique, through studying the cracks in the window, that one learns where to go next.

100. And almost one year after starting on this task (thanks to @vgr for the selection of topic), this ends my 100 tweets on postrats. I hope you are satisfied. Q.E.D.

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