Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Thu, 14 Jan 1999 11:42:03 -0600

Billy Brown wrote:
> IMO, there is a long list of unusual mental abilities that a hypothetical,
> perfectly sane being would possess. I've never met a human who had all of
> them, but some people certainly have more than others. A partial list:
> 1) The basic ability of rational thinking. Its amazing how few people
> bother to develop this, or even see it as a worthwhile goal.
> 2) A willingness to apply rational thought to _all_ topics, not just a
> select few.
> 3) The ability to tell when you are lying to yourself, and to stop doing
> it. No one ever seems to be perfect at this, but some people are much
> better than others.
> 4) A good mental immune system, again based on rational thought. If you
> have 2 and 3, you probably have this - although thinking of ideas as memes
> seems to make it much easier.
> 5) Global change propagation. When new information overturns a
> long-established belief, the effects should propagate through the rest of
> your mind in a reasonable amount of time. This one sounds easy, but it is
> actually very difficult to make sure you don't retain distantly-related
> beliefs whose foundation has been undermined.

6) Self-awareness. The ability to say *why* you thought a given thought, and be accurate about it, even if it's uncomfortable. The ability to think without using the word "I". (I can't do this unless I concentrate - that is, causal analysis attributes all cognition to a monolithic self-symbol unless the subgoal of fine-grained analysis is active.)

7) Emotional control. A sane being should be able to control vis emotions like flexing a finger, not by expending willpower. (It's an unfortunate fact that human emotions are central to the cognitive architecture. A perfectly sane human couldn't get rid of all emotions, therefore, but would have to control them deliberately to select the best cognitive ability for a situation.)

8) Self-disbelief. You're a lot less vulnerable to a "very old form of mind control" (to quote Lois Bujold) if you think of orgasms as "small explosions of endogenous opiates" (to quote ?) rather than anything meaningful. Same thing holds true, for, say, youthful rebellion; the hold is a lot weaker if you think of yourself as acting out a scene from challenging the chief of a hunter-gatherer tribe. The other side of evolutionary psychology is not taking yourself seriously.

9) Ethical dreaming. One of the ways to check your work, where self-alteration is concerned, is to see whether the ethical principles you instill in yourself when awake carry over into dreams. If you can retain your principles when your rational mind is asleep, logic is mutable, nobody is watching, and you can be tempted with anything, then you've probably done a good job. (Lucid dreams don't count.) I'm ethical even in dreams now, and I'm damn proud of it.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.