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Tank General

general, Thinkingtanks.com

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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 16 2012: I have to disagree in some extent with him(Dan Ariely) . He see the human brain as an inflexible tool,that can only enjoy its full potencial at the wilderness,while supposing that the ideal "setup" for the brain to survive today is to work like a self-aware computer,thinking fully rationally . But there's a drawback of doing that,which is the problem that,without a emotional motivation,we may never leave the "planning phase" and actually do the shit we want to .

    "How do we better structure institutions that can compensate for our shortcoming?"

    First,there are already some tools for improving institutions,but their use has been restricted to companies,as companies are lot more flexible and have a far straighter objective than a big institution,like governments . Second,only investing in education itself isn't enough . There shall be investiment and researchs about how can we "germinate" and improve free thought on all individuals .
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      Nov 18 2012: Thanks Julian. Good argument. I see your point. There are several things that we still dont know about the brain and why its setup the way that it is.

      Agree that education may not be enough. Particularly for addressing deeply ingrained selective biases. Can you expand on what you mean by germinating and improving free thought on all individuals?

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