By Elliot Temple
Originally posted on the Beginning of Infinity List, September 8, 2011

Ways of thinking can be rational, or not.

Rationality is more about how one decides his ideas than what the ideas are. Rationality focusses on how one thinks, not what he thinks.

Thinking is rational if it uses reason. That means, approximately, thinking in a reasonable way.

What type of thinking is reasonable? What fits with reason? What is rational?

Thinking capable of correcting mistakes is rational. Thinking capable of improving.

Any approach to thinking which gets stuck forever without improving is irrational and unreasonable. An approach which *risks* that is also irrational.

Ways of thinking should be good at making progress. They should be good and finding and improving mistakes. They should be good at learning new things. They should be good at improving one's existing ideas.

Rational people have open minds. They are willing to change their ideas. They are willing to consider new ideas. They aren't overly attached to their current ideas.

Rational people like criticism. They don't just tolerate it; they appreciate it. Criticism helps us improve by explaining our mistakes so that we can do better.

Reason relies on logic and good arguments. Those allow for improvement.

Reason rejects mysticism. Magical thinking is arbitrary and easy to vary. Approaches like accepting any wishful thinking provide no standards for judging which ideas are better or worse. It magic is allowed, it can answer any criticism, and so there can be no criticism. This is incompatible with improving our knowledge.

Reason rejects appeals to authority. Keeping an open mind means being willing to question and challenge authority. Progress requires sometimes overturning authorities.

Reason rejects declarations that the world is mysterious, never to be understood by us. This attitude is contrary to progress.

Reason rejects pessimism. Pessimism is an excuse for people to give up and not try. When we try to make progress, we make more of it. And the principle of optimism -- problems are soluble with knowledge (and we are universal knowledge creators) -- is true.

Reason rejects fatalism. Fatalism is the idea that Fate (or God) has decided everyone's destiny. It doesn't matter what people do since fate is in charge. This false claim takes away people's motivation to learn anything.

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