Welcome to Rational Numbers. My name is James Kay.
I’m a PhD candidate in the faculty of applied science at the University of British Columbia. My academic research is in the field of materials science, but I’m also interested more generally in science, mathematics, philosophy, rationality, games and probability theory. Rational Numbers is my way to share ideas about all these topics.
Science and philosophy give us many powerful tools for understanding the world, but the explanations of scientific and philosophical ideas that typically appear in the popular media are often very poor, confusing, misleading or just wrong. I believe scientists have an obligation to make their fields understandable to the general public, and also to challenge and denounce those who spread misinformation and take advantage of people’s ignorance. I’m interested in promoting scientific literacy in the general public, making science more accessible and relevant to the average person, and generally encouraging rationality.
Rationality is essentially the view that the world is best understood using logic and reason. That may seem fairly uncontroversial, and indeed most people would probably claim they agree with this point of view, but when you look at the actions of people in the real world it is clear that on the whole, humans are not currently very good at being rational. We’re susceptible to a whole host of cognitive biases and are prone to committing logical fallacies. Fortunately, there is evidence that humans can, to some extent, become more rational through learning and practice. I’m interested in promoting a way of looking at the world that begins with understanding how knowledge really works, and how we can use the tools of science to better understand the world, be better people, make better decisions and be more rational in our lives.
Finally, I’m interested in games. Games can provide an artificial setting for reasoning about and practicing the skills of rationality, such as decision making under uncertainty, or optimizing shared outcomes through cooperation. In fact, the science of strategy and decision making is called game theory. Games can also provide an enjoyable way to practice rationality, which is important because then people actually do it; it’s much easier to get people to play games than to read textbooks. Finally, games are important even when we don’t learn anything from them because they’re fun, and having fun is one of the best ways to produce utility and increase the amount of goodness in the world.
I hope that you enjoy Rational Numbers.