Discussion (1L): Rationalism, Contrarianism, and Bayesian Thinking in Politics: How to Think Better? (241Q): In the early 2010s, the Bay Area spawned a movement of thinkers obsessed with cognitive biases and "Bayesian reasoning," a way of using statistics and probability to inform beliefs. This group--that later came to be known as "rationalists"--insists on subjecting all spheres of life to scientific scrutiny and probabilistic reasoning. Rationalist takes are often contrarian and challenge mainstream ways of thinking about topics that include everything from science and medicine to philosophy and politics to the rise of artificial intelligence. Rationalist writings in blogs and books can be controversial. For example, some rationalists have discussed the genetics of depression or intelligence. Since 2015, however, rationalism has become a brand in Silicon Valley and hugely influential among pundits and executives. Members of the rationalist movement also overlapped with the growing community of "effective altruism," an effort to remake charity donations by focusing on, and calculating, the actual impact of every dollar on human lives. And the movement is full of quirks and, well, weirdness: a fear of AI armaggedon, polyamory, and group living near Berkeley is common. Politically, rationalists are mostly center-left, but they range from "communist to anarcho-capitalist." What brings them together, however, is that they are careful thinkers, quantitatively-oriented, and contrarians. In this seminar we will explore what the Rationalist movement is all about--what and how they think. We will take both a critical but also inquisitive view. What is to be gained from rationalists? Can their way of thinking improve political debates? We will read several books, including James Scott's "Seeing like a State," Julia Galef's "Scout Mindset," Philip Tetlock's "Superforcasters," blog posts from a website called "Less Wrong," and a series of blog-posts by the psychiatrist-cum-polymath Scott Alexander on drug arrests, crime spikes, and medical regulations, among others. Class meets 5:30 PM-7:30 PM on Sept. 28, Oct. 12, Oct. 26, Nov. 9.
2022-2023 AutumnSchedule No Longer Available