[extropy-chat] Rational Irrationality (2)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Dec 8 03:27:39 UTC 2006

Keith writes

> Dan wrote:
>> "Rational Ignorance vs. Rational Irrationality" (_Kyklos_ 54(1), 2001,
>> pp.3-26.)
>> Abstract:
>> "Beliefs about politics and religion often have three puzzling
>> properties: systematic bias, high certainty, and little informational
>> basis. The theory of rational ignorance (Downs 1957) explains only the
>> low level of information. The current paper presents a general model of
>> "rational irrationality," which explains all three stylized facts.
>> According to the theory of rational irrationality, being irrational - in
>> the sense of deviating from rational expectations - is a good like any
>> other; the lower the private cost, the more agents buy. A peculiar
>> feature of beliefs about politics, religion, etc. is that the private
>> repercussions of error are virtually nonexistent, setting the private
>> cost of irrationality at zero; it is therefore in these areas that
>> irrational views are most apparent. The consumption of irrationality can
>> be optimal, but it will usually not be when the private and the social
>> cost of irrationality differ - for example, in elections."
> It pains me to read such egregious nonsense.
> "Consumption of irrationality"?  "Private cost of irrationality at zero"?

Why isn't this just the usual econo-speak?  I'm not sure exactly what
"consumption of irrationality" is, but I could guess, and I could always
read the paper.   But the "private cost of irrationality" makes perfect
sense---the author is doing no more than attempting to say that you
can do all sorts of things, even be totally inconsistent, so long as you're
just blowing off steam about world events that you cannot affect at all.

> Off hand there is little more irrational than blowing yourself up as a 
> suicide bomber.  I don't know how anyone could set this cost at zero.

First, why didn't you demur when a number of us agreed that suicide
bombing is not necessarily irrational.  If your value system values your
own life much less than it does The Cause, it is perfectly rational to 

> At least experiments like the Ultimatum game and finding the actual brain 
> structures active when people refuse an offer they should (if rational) 
> take is starting to inform economics with a bit of evolutionary psychology.

Again, I disagree.  "Declining" in the Ultimatum Game is a form of
altruistic punishment.  I'm sure you're familiar with the concept, but
google for it if not.  Again, it may be that in my private value system,
really sticking it to the cheap sonavabitch is worth more to me than

> The *one* thing for sure is that over evolutionary time genes are rational 
> (The implied goal for genes is to "be there" in future generations.)

That's for dead sure.

>  If you look under human irrationality, you find rational reasons for 
> the genes to induced such behavior, or at least there were such reasons 
> when people lived in small related hunter gatherer bands.

But allele frequencies have been changing a lot in *historical* times.
For example, today those of us with genes that succumb to the cultural
fashion of having few children, will obviously be far fewer in the future.
And so will those genes.


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