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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 26 2012: I believe that humans are not rational or irational persay, as the actions the brain carries out are based largerly on survival. Whether that choice is rational or not, it is to benefit the individual or their surrondings. One might say that sacrificing oneself for others is in no way rational, though if it ,means someone who may save others or do greater good does survive, it may be seen as rational. The human brain is not built to be rational or irational, it is built to keep us alive and to protect those around us. As a species, humans try to discover everything and catergorize into little apartments so we can grasp the immense concepts around us. that is not how it works with all things. Some things cant be seen completely without being connected to the right things or arranged certain ways. The rationality level of the brain is like that. It cant be compartamentalized like that, it does what it needs to do to survive, whether that be rational or not.

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