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Are humans irrational? If so, how can we build stronger institutions to compensate for human shortcomings in rationality?

David Ropeik argues that "The brain is only the organ for which we think we think. It's job is not to win noble prizes. And to pass math tests. It's job is to get us tomorrow. Its a survival mechanism.. and it plays a lot of tricks in order to get us to tomorrow. That worked pretty well when the risks were lions and tigers and bears… Its not as good when we need to rationalize and reason and use the facts more with the complicated risks we face in a modern age: climate change, genetically modified food, and unsustainable living on the planet.. That takes a lot more thinking. More cognitive, slow,more effortful thinking. That we are not instinctively built that way must be recognized if we are going to get beyond the risk of not being built that way."


Dan Ariely provides further evidence that humans have irrational cognitive thought in his TedTalk and offers the following, "If we have these predictable, repeatable mistakes in vision, some thing that we are good at, what's the chance that we don't make more mistakes at something we're not as good at? For example financial decision making. Something we don't have an evolutionary reason to do, we don't have a specialized part of the brain, and we don't do that many parts of the day. The argument is that in those cases we make many more mistakes.."

In another TedTalk Dan Ariely provides the following food for thought, "Are we superman or are we Homer Simpson? When it comes to building the physical world we understand our limitations and we build around it. But for some reason when it comes to the mental world when we design things like healthcare, retirement, and the stock market we somehow forget the idea that we are limited. And i think if we understood our cognitive limitations in the same way that we understand our physical limitations we could design a better world."

Do you agree with them? How do we better structure institutions that can compensate for our shortcoming?


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    Gail . 50+

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    Nov 13 2012: I thoroughly enjoyed the videos and thank you for pointing them out. Dan Ariely's TED talks are worth everyone's time. So funny and informative!

    I disagree with the YouTube video. David Ropeik states that thoughts follow emotions, but after a thorough informal study of the matter, I am convinced that emotions follow thought. The thought prompts an emotion. Too many people confuse emotion with thought. They literally believe that they are thinking when they are emoting. This is what causes people to be irrational.

    Some years ago, I was engaged in a political discussion with a very logical friend about one tiny part of the political platform. Over and over he walked me through various scenerios, forcing me to articulate the reason for my position in a rational way. Each time I used emotion as a thought, he asked another question. This went on for nearly four hours.

    Suddenly, he asked a question and the only possible way to walk to the answer was along a completely rational line of thought. It was an AMAZING experience! I felt as if my world had just expanded to the power of near-infinity. I could conceive of so much that had been inconceivable before. I was forever changed. I had experienced my first pure, rational thought of my entire adult life! It felt so clean - which is the only way I can explain it.

    I then began to pay attention to my emotions and the emotions of others. I first allowed myself to feel anger for the purpose of understanding why I can emote it. I allowed myself to experience anger as fully as I could, and just when I thought I couldn't summon up any more, I found another piece of anger, and WHOOSH! It was gone. Then I was angry because I wasn't angry any more, so I did the exercise again and again, the WHOOSH.

    the 2nd time, I was laughing hysterically. Memories came flashing through my mind, and in each case, I saw that I had been judging myself unfairly. I saw my innocence.

    Emotions are a compass. They point out error
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      Nov 13 2012: What an interesting account of your experience.
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      Nov 18 2012: Very interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience and unique standpoint...

      I see where you're coming from. Emotions follow thought because emotions have to be based on some level of presupposed deliberation or contemplation a person has done in the past. That makes sense and seems logical. But could one make the argument that emotions do not follow "conscious" thought? Or said differently, our emotions may not consider the deliberation that's needed during that time and purpose of the emption but rather considers the mental deliberation that we've done in the past. The danger here is that the past deliberation that we are basing our emotions off of may not be appropriate for the current setting around that emotion. Let me know if I'm off base here but it seems to capture the underlying realization in your experience.

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