Physicist Thomas Goetz joined the physical and theoretical effects department at the MIT Media Lab in the early 1990s. He has devised many papers on the subject of epistemology and critical thinking (XaD1) and chaired the negotiation committee for the Semantic Interpretation of the Physical Universe Project (SIETUP). He first conceived of the book Rationality in 2005 at a workshop at the University of Toronto. The work was based on research at MIT, where he had trained, and where he published his doctoral thesis. Goetz is an inventor, programmer, computer scientist, and theoretical physicist. He serves as the director of the Center for Complex Dynamics.
The book is informed by one of Goetz’s fields of expertise, electromagnetism, as well as epistemology, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. The thesis of the book is that the author does not think. Although there are certain things one wants to do, such as organize and understand such phenomena as thinking patterns, events in the external world, and organizational structures, there are other things one should not do in the main. That is to say, if one were to think about one’s fundamental nature, one would develop terminal goals, which we could modify through alternate means (realization, optimization, or modification). On the other hand, the author does not need to think in order to behave. To take a concrete example, a particularly violent wrecking ball dropping on a pillar could “thrust” a person into an irrational thought or action. This can occur just as the pillar is falling to the ground and the body is at a safe distance from the wreckage.
Concerning the primacy of causality, Goetz considers it as a futile construct. On the other hand, he asks whether we should agree that nihilism, thinking in an alienated way, or narcissism—of not thinking—are wrong in themselves. This reason, however, depends on the effects that either behavior has on others. For instance, thinking about oneself, narcissism, and nihilism may cause pain or ruin, whereas being held responsible for one’s actions causes strength and solidarity.
This also depends on how arbitrarily disruptive one is. In order to determine how highly harmful, one must ask what should one wish to do next. A tractor beam is more powerful than a concrete wall but both work the same way; just as the visible and invisible objects have the same names, so do the quantities of energy and time. That is to say, both these objects are opposites, but whether the tractor beam is much stronger than the wall does not necessarily mean that they cause essentially the same problems. Another example would be playing the video game Fight Club. While the gameplay is hardly worth thinking about, the actions taken by the main character are of some importance: “The game itself does not offer action worth remarking on. What is important is your choice, your decision-making, and how your actions affect the protagonists in other parts of the game,” Goetz writes. Not thinking about oneself through the compulsion of the game does not give more value or importance than not playing the game at all.
The logic of rational functioning is better understood when considered from both a computational and qualitative perspective. The construct of logical reasoning is the best of both possible worlds: It creates systems that perform a desired function in a specific way, but it does not function as if one were to think. A case study in this field is research done in gaming, computer games. Computer programs that participate in interactive investigations, in which the goal is to solve an issue, use several methods to help users perform their tasks more efficiently. The computer programs have an algorithm to program a new computer game, a path that users must choose. In one way or another, these programmers use the interfaces of existing program interfaces as input for the new game. As a consequence, the particular game play experienced by a user is subject to the experiences in the old game. The old game, then, functions as a “taster” for the new one. Both these processes ensure that the user will understand the game better than if he or she never tried it.