TED Conversations

Tank General

general, Thinkingtanks.com

This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 24 2012: Is it «rational» to believe that there is a way of being and thinking that is rational and one that is not? It is hard to say. Humans, of course, inventend all of these ideas like belief, rationality, emotionality etc. etc. In fact, it would be more inetersting to debate whether the concept of rationality has any significance for anything but humans. It is a human idea that applies (only) to human thinking ... but does it really exist?
    Words like rationalty and irrationality, faith and doubt, objective and subjective, are all, i suppose, simply different positions along a continuum of words and concepts humans use to describe human thinking.
    I think that we as a rule use a word like "rational" to describe resoning that is close to what we think.
    • Nov 25 2012: Hi Steven
      I like what you said and how you said it. It is very interesting an idea to engage with, as to whether or not the concept of rationality has any significance for anything but humans.
      Someone elses "rationality" can almost make me become irrational if it is a topic close to my heart that I feel very strongly about. Which one is really which?
      Does it really exist? is a great question. I cannot answer that or nearly any other question.

      Recent studies and testing have supposedly shown that close in age to newborn babies are able to make and thus, demonstrate, what the testers called "moral decisions".

      They then surmised that babies do have some innate form or source of "morality", an idea of right and wrong in some sense, but they cannot definitively say or prove it.

      I wonder if their merely having an already learned, perceived and strongly held belief of what they think moral is, could in any way, have actually tainted their perceptions and their tests?

      I think that it may have.
      • thumb
        Nov 25 2012: Hi Random.
        Glad you appreciate my muddled thoughts. I am always mullig around ideas in my head, though not always entriely rationally.
        It is a difficult philosophical challenge. Is there a "higher" way of thinking? If so whose? Is there a higher plane of existence, and if so, is the concept of mentality even a part of it?
        Yes, humans are rational; yes, humans are irrational; yes humans are smart; yes humans are dumb, yes humans are honest, yes humans are dishonest.
        And - just to make it all even more difficult - it is precisely the same hardware and the same software that produces all of the above.
        The one thing we do know, is that all of the hardware, and much (we don't really know how much) of the software is innate. That means babies are naturally capable of any kind of thinking, although it takes them a while to build up a basis for expressing their mentality.
        I can recommend a little animation made by the Royal Society for the Arts on just this subject. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFs9WO2B8uI .

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.