Using decision science to help yourself and the world.
What if we could make better use of the vast amounts of experience and evidence we have about our careers, our businesses, our health, and our happiness? What if we could reliably react in productive ways, and overcome the impulses we wanted to change?
Even the smartest human brains didn’t evolve to handle the kinds of complex decisions we face daily in the modern world. In some ways, our instincts serve us beautifully, but forty years of research in cognitive science has found ways in which our brains reliably misunderstand probabilities, ignore alternative theories, invent explanations for chance events, seek self-serving explanations, inconsistently over-weight short term rewards, and much more. What can we do?
We can improve.
CFAR takes an optimistic view of these discoveries. Recent scientific understanding of cognitive biases, or systematic thinking errors, provides an exciting opportunity for humanity to become smarter and more effective. We’re taking the results of cognitive science research, and turning them into techniques that people can practice and use in their own lives. That means going beyond understanding these errors, and actually training ourselves to overcome them. It also means knowing when to trust our instincts, and learning new thinking habits for situations where they’re less reliable.
CFAR is devoted to teaching those techniques, and the math and science behind them, to adults and exceptional youth. In the process, we’re breaking new ground in studying the long-term effects of rationality training on life outcomes using randomized controlled trials. We’re contributing to pedagogical knowledge about how to teach this emerging discipline at universities and elsewhere. And we’re building a real-life community of tens of thousands of students, entrepreneurs, researchers, programmers, philanthropists, and others who are passionate about using rationality to improve the decisions they make for themselves and for the world. Read more about what we do.
Our movement is growing.
Never before has there been so much interest in the project of improving human rationality. In academia, the proliferating literature on heuristics and biases has transformed the social sciences. Meanwhile, the public has made bestsellers out of recent books on irrationality such as Predictably Irrational, Nudge, Being Wrong, Thinking, Fast and Slow, and The Believing Brain. Our staff members have also grown their own enthusiastic communities of over 100,000 readers and listeners of Less Wrong, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and the podcast Rationally Speaking. Read more about us.
The science behind CFAR
When cognitive scientists talk about rationality, they’re talking about two things: Epistemic rationality means forming beliefs about the world as accurately as possible, given the available evidence. Instrumental rationality means figuring out the best way to reach your goals, given your own beliefs and desires, and then getting yourself to act on those plans. Math, logic, and statistics have accumulated a lot of insight over the centuries about how optimal reasoning and strategy work, while cognitive science shows us how humans diverge from those ideal models, and what we can do to improve. Read more on the science of rationality.