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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 12 2012: Dan Arley says "if we understood our cognitive limitations in the same way that we understand our physical limitations we could design a better world"

    True as it is indeed, I want to point out that we already do understand it. We understand the limitations of the brain ever since Kant.

    Now the only relevant question that remains is the one Tank General asks, namely: How do we better structure institutions that can compensate for our shortcoming?

    First, we have to understand the difference between the intellectual and emotional order. The first one is a universal system that works over a certain territory with equal intensity, the second one is the compatibility of the most proximate. The examples can be socialism and climate respectively.

    Now, consciously designed institutions have to take into account what is universal in the human being (substance) and what is not (attribute).

    People are obviously not the same everywhere, yet it should be possible to extract certain things all humans no matter where they live, have in common. (Plants for example are extremely varied but they all need CO2 for example).

    Now, only what is universal can be institutionalized in the manner of an intellectual order. Everything else should be subject to local regulation. The attempt to universally institutionalize what is local and in the state of flux is bound to failure.

    So much of the theory. The question of what is essential in the human being is a difficult one, and as we know, there are as many answers as people.
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      Nov 18 2012: Thanks much for your comment. I'm a big fan of emphasizing focus on the intellect. Apologies if i missed the crux of your argument but is the intellectual order symbolic of a type of socialist state? if so, just to play devil's advocate, who determines who is in the "intellectual order" and running the socialist state? I think the history of socialsim has shown that its more dangerous for the general populace to be fully subjected to the potentially misguided or irrational "intellect" of a few. That's w/o even getting into the economic argument about why price controls almost always cause distortions that are detrimental to overal social welfare. I also realize that true socialism has never been implemented properly which brings the question as to whether its an impractical ideology. Interested in hearing your thoughts. Hopefully i captured where you were ultimately going with this.
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        Nov 18 2012: [At first I thought it is great that you are asking me where I was going with this because it would give me the chance to sort it out in my own head.]

        [After wrestling with the answer for some time though, I came to the conclusion that these things are too complicated and that we are simply the victims of the language, where every word has so many meanings right now that it makes the truth simply impossible to uncover.]

        [Here is where I got stuck and frustrated:]

        Generally, I think that humans are ultimately incapable of being put into any sort of an intellectually designed system, be it socialism, communism, or even capitalism (in its current form).
        [ok, so far so good]

        The human nature is simply too complex and varied to be put into any type of frames without causing a significant damage to it.

        [but now check this:]
        What then is the best 'system'? A one that gives people freedom.
        [the meaning of freedom, however, has been dug really deep and I have neither capabilities nor will to uncover it]

        So, then, Tank General, I have to stop my answer here, unable to go on :) maybe one day...
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          Nov 18 2012: Haha great response! It' s huge question and it could be very well that there is no absolute single answer as you pointed out. A system that supports freedom is great start but then we get back to the inefficiencies that could arise if the agents in the system are acting irrationally. It's a loopy problem!

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