Why don’t rationalists win more?

The following list comes from a presentation I gave at a Slate Star Codex meetup in 2018.

Possible factors

  • Thinkers vs. doers: selection effects [1] and a mutually-reinforcing tendency to talk instead of doing [2].
  • Theoretical models spread without selection [2].
  • Inability and unwillingness to cooperate [2].
  • People who are more interested in instrumental rationality leave the community [2].
  • Focusing on the future leads to a lack of immediate plans [2].
  • Pessimism due to a focus on problems [1].
  • Success mostly depends on specific skills, not general rationality [1].
  • Online communities are fundamentally incapable of increasing instrumental rationality (“a chair about jogging”) [3].


  1. “Why Don’t Rationalists Win?” Adam Zerner. 2015.
  2. “The Craft & The Community—A Post-Mortem & Resurrection”. bendini. 2017.
  3. “Self-Improvement or Shiny Distraction: Why Less Wrong is anti-Instrumental Rationality”. Patri Friedman. 2010.

See also