by Wayne Ferrier
Psychiatrists and psychologists have come to the rational conclusion that man is incapable of coming to a rational conclusion. To a certain extent there may be some truth to this. While we are still in the beginning stages of understanding our own minds, we do have three or four good theories on how our mind operates—though we are far from a comprehensive holistic understanding.
All in all many, if not most instances, of reasoning in man is what we call bounded rationality. Bounded rationality holds that when making decisions, the rational thought of individuals is limited by what information is available to them at the time they make decisions, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time before a decision has to be made. Another way to look at bounded rationality is that, because decision-makers lack the ability and resources to arrive at an optimal solution, they instead simplify the choices available to them. Thus the decision-maker seeks a satisfactory solution rather than an optimal one.
In nature an animal that hesitates and remains indecisive is at a disadvantage to quicker thinking individuals—a deer stunned by car highlights too many times is not likely to survive very long. It makes sense that there are selective pressures from the environment to mold species capable of making decisions based on just a few facts and then choosing a decisive plan of action. Man is such an creature.
Besides bounded rationality, it is also held that man possesses a theory of mind. This is the idea that an individual understands that others may have a view of the world that differs from their own, or even that other's concepts of the world might be fallacious. Among social animals there may be an advantage to individuals that understand that others may not have all the facts and that they can be misled and deceived. And while this is a simplification of a theory of mind and perhaps not everything about this ability need be perceived negative, a theory of mind gives an individual the capability of deception, hence manipulation of others for the benefit of the self over others.
Recently some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved not to understand truth or even reality but that our reasoning ability evolved for the sole purpose to win arguments. Human rationality may be just the impulse to win debates. According to this view, bias and illogic are social adaptations that enable one to persuade and defeat others in arguments—certitude being more important than what the truth may actually be.
This theory of argumentation is strongly tied to well-known and long held concepts of human thought and behavior, in particular cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when people are biased to think their choices are correct, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that they are not.
So when you add it up: bounded reason (quick decisions based on limited information); theory of mind and the view that others don't have all the facts and are thus fallible and fool-able; cognitive dissonance (that in spite of evidence to the fact that we might be wrong we think we are right); holding onto incorrect views of the world in spite of the facts; regardless of all this we argue on, purposefully filtering out contrary evidence and valuable information just so we can hold onto our cherished positions and manipulate others.
It is unfortunate but exceedingly interesting that decision-makers often adhere to immobile positions irrespective of the facts. But the adversarial-argumentative approach is a lose-lose proposition most of the time.
Science, which is supposed to be based on empiricism rather than on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation, is an ideal solution to the adversarial-only approach, but many so-called scientific voices are not trustworthy. For example, consider the argument concerning climate change. Engaging the scientific community in a discussion about climate change more often than not degenerates into Ad Hominems such as: “You're not scientific if you don't believe in global warming,” or “If you don't believe in global warming you probably don't believe in the law of gravity either.” Often instead of producing facts, we are told the time for discussion is over, that global warming is real and we need to act now, not question it anymore. Global warming is the only hypothesis in science, it seems, that skipped right over becoming a theory and somehow became a physical law in just a few short decades of research.
Major problems worldwide
Now here is a list of real problems, which I feel that bounded reason, cognitive dissonance, and irrational arguing are unlikely to solve; yet we need to address these issues if we are to survive and thrive as a species. Each problem is factual and is integrally entwined with the others, so that each problem affects all the others in a web of complexity. Our current system of thinking is inadequate to solve any of them satisfactory alone, let alone each woven together.
Regardless of climate change, global warming or no global warming, climate affects weather and weather affects agriculture. We no longer have a worldwide food surplus, in part because of bad weather and in part because of overpopulation. The rise of China and India and other countries has eaten into our surplus and just a season or two of bad weather has sparked ugly situations such as the Arab Spring. In addition, crisis such as the Arab Spring reflect intolerable social inequality, as well as the possibility of impeding starvation due to crop failure. Like dominoes the Arab Spring caused a rise in oil prices affecting western countries dependent of foreign oil. So here in the West we're feeling high fuel prices, high food prices, chronic unemployment, social inequality, and ineffectual government—and the weather isn’t fun either! So what causes all this? Simple, overpopulation; overpopulation can be tried to just about any major modern problem: disease, famine, habitat destruction, pollution, war, you name it; and if you believe in climate change via man-produced carbon emissions, also the weather.
Globalization and economy
It is getting hard to ignore that the time of nations is ending. It has been clear for a while that no nation exists on its own anymore, and what happens to one country affects everyone else. The United States never got out of WWII mode, it went right into the Cold War, and when that ended got into a lengthy and expensive war against terrorism; in that sixty-five year period, it ignored the creation of meaningful employment and living wage jobs. Instead it focused on supporting rising inequality and it failed to fix its malfunctioning educational system, which has left America's workforce poorly educated, unemployed or marginally employed, many are living in substandard housing, on the streets, in prison, or are just a paycheck away from living in the streets or in prison. How long do we wait before we have an American Spring? When the American economy finally collapses, so goes the rest of the world.
Inequality, low or no wage employment is leading to a massive brain drain in America. Then there is the crumbling infrastructure—left untouched since the brief economic boom after WWII. Here are meaningful jobs but nothing is being done.
In the meantime all we do is argue, but we don't listen, nor do we analyze.
A snippet from the NPR Radio Program WAIT WAIT. . .DON'T TELL ME says it best:
PETER SAGAL: It turns out, the reason human beings developed intelligence was not to be better hunters or better survive against other species, but to win arguments. See, the thing that has always puzzled people about human intelligence, how humans got so smart, is why humans are still so stupid.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PETER SAGAL: Because we continually believe things that are incorrect and behave irrationally. And so people evolved, it turns out, the ability to convince themselves they were right even when they were full of it. You see, that's the explanation.
MO ROCCA: That's interesting.
FAITH SALIE: Does this mean that politicians are the most evolved among us?
PETER SAGAL: Exactly.
(Soundbite of laughter)