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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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    Nov 14 2012: "The very reason we need logic at all is because most reasoning is not conscious at all." -- Julian Jaynes
    "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." -- David Hume

    We use reason to justify conclusions we reach subconsciously. There seems to be no way to improve it.

    In matters of fact (as opposed to pure mathematical problems), we can be presented with tons of evidence, but we would believe any of it only if it makes an emotional impression on us.

    Especially, when it comes to moral decisions, reason is useless. Moral decisions are made purely by emotions. "Cost and benefit" are very subjective concepts. Everyone would flip a railroad switch to save 5 abstract people, but killing one abstract person instead. Situation changes dramatically when the one person is a child, and 5 people are known convicted murderers. And when I consider morality of killing 5 thugs who try kill one person (me), numbers don't matter at all.

    I see the way to improve the situation in studying and understanding our own emotions and emotions of others. When more people understand how our words and actions affect others emotionally, this world will be a much happier place.

    And in the meantime, our school system is focused on math and reading scores, and technology creates new ways to communicate in which we don't see each others face or hear each others voice.
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      Nov 18 2012: "We use reason to justify conclusions we reach subconsciously. There seems to be no way to improve it." - I think this is key! Thanks for pointing it out. But can we change this? As i mentioned earlier to TedLover, emotions seem to be based on some level of presupposed deliberation or contemplation a person has done in the past, but my not consider the appropriate level of deliberation necessary for the current setting. Is the solution simply to stop and think longer before we act as David Ropeik suggests? Even with that there seems there would still be some level of subconscious selective bias towards our emotions.
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        Nov 18 2012: I'm not sure how to tell the difference between a thought and an emotion and what follows what. Emotions and thoughts seem to me like same processes, perhaps, taking place in different brain areas. I also do not think that emotions are based on past contemplations or experiences. Some of them are genetically programmed by evolution - e.g. fear.

        I agree with TED Lover that being aware of our emotions gives us control over them. We should not, however, get rid of emotions. Emotions motivate us. Without emotions we would not have any desire to do anything at all. The full quote from Hume is: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

        Another paradox is that being aware of our irrationality makes us more rational, just like awareness of ignorance gives rise to learning.

        I think, we should train our feelings (subconscious reactions) as well as reasoning abilities. Both are skills that can be learned.

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