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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 24 2012: Humans are not irrational by nature.
    They are malleable.
    Thus they are prone to being mislead, deceived and fooled into thinking, believing, speaking, doing and opining,
    seemingly soberly, intellectually and rationally, on insane, irrational and psychotic behavior with the aplomb of calmness.

    Our genes don't dictate how we are to act or respond, or even think. They give us options, choices, and these are appraised by our need and want for survival in whatever environment anyone of us finds ourselves in.

    Our rationalizing that irrational behavior is rational, indicates serious illness to me.
    It is serious when the cause, is not what is discussed for the cure and the focus is on those elements which are the results, but not the cause.

    Ridding our world of the causes will always work. Attacking the symptoms never has and never will. To believe such things is to me, extreme irrational thought and behavior.
    That seems obvious as it has been going on for so long and has only failed.
    Just recently I read a report about the failed "war on drugs.' It has been a failure since it first began but that is because there never was any intention of winning it. The only intention was to get rid of the competition, the Mom & Pop dealers or those who were getting too big for their own good.
    This is greed, corruption and crime. Are those irrational? Is that hard to answer? The results seem to hurt and destroy many while only a few benefit. It matters not whether they are legal drugs or not. The manner in which it all takes place, the greed involved in deceiving people still goes on, the lying to others about the repercussions of certain drugs, the selling of tainted drugs to 3rd world countries in order to save and still get a profit out of them, is all irrational done up as rational "business as usual", business that is good for the country and so on.

    We must get rid of the causes to regain healthy, rational thinking and behavior.

    But, we keep the causes and discuss who to kill.

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