[extropy-chat] Humans--non-rational mode

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Thu Mar 9 19:16:04 UTC 2006

Kevin writes

> When I think of irrational behaviour, I thing of behaviour that doesn't make
> sense in the slightest.

And that's the way it should be. We need to start restricting what we mean
by "rational", and start using only as the opposite of "irrational" as you've
just used it. Thanks for the description of your ex's truly irrational behavior.

> So I don't think "rational" thought is overrated. Instead, I think it is
> very common but misunderstood. I think that the accusation of being
> irrational is overused incorrectly. Most people assume that any two people
> who make a rational decision would make the same decision and that's not the
> case. What is rational is always clouded by emotion. Something may be
> rational and logical for me, but not for you simply because I place a higher
> level of importance on something.

But to address your first point, rational thought frequently *is*
overrated. Unless it's tempered by sound judgment and appropriate
emotion, it is *EXTREMELY* dangerous as the 20th century profusely

Your second point---that the term "irrational" is overused---is quite
right, but isn't related to whether or not rational thought is overrated.

Your third point---that rationality is some kind of common coin and we
should not expect that all people to come the same decisions if they
merely employ rationality---seems right on to me!  But then you make
the mistake of attributing that (or so it looks like you said) to the
"rational decision" being clouded by emotion. Are you aware that it
has been shown that *without* emotion---or without "using your gut"
---rational decision making often results in very poor behavior?

Your fourth point---that two people using "rationality" may come to
different decisions because their values are different---well, yes,
that's so. Al Qaeda strikes me as a rational organization (by which
I illustrate yet again the utter pointlessness of speaking like that),
but so what? I cannot think of a *single* way in which saying that
Al Qaeda is not rational makes any sense. So yes, thanks for pointing
out yet another tempting---but wrong---way that people are prone to
placing rationality (or Reason) on a pedestal.

> For example, Is it rational for me to spend
> $10 on anchovies? Not if I have absolutely no use for them whatsoever. But
> if I get anything out of it...even just a chance to see the checkout person
> sneer, then it becomes rationalized in my mind. The look on the person's
> face is worth the $10 to me and that's all that matters. Someone else would
> likely call that irrational, but in fact, they mean that it's something that
> they wouldn't do and they don't understand my motivation.

I agree.  But: you bring up "rationalizing", almost a different subject.

In brief, rationalizing is sometimes good, sometimes bad.  What is always
true is the degree to which we fool ourselves into thinking that our
after-the-fact rationalizing is the *source* of our take on something.
Rationalizing is good when it's used to try to formally review or describe
the sense behind our conclusions or feelings, or to illuminate or to try to
justify them.

Of course, rationalizing seems bad when used in this very way by people we
disagree with.


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