We humans are silly, irrational creatures. Neurologically, we make decisions based on bad or misleading assumptions, impractical expectations, and often raw, unfiltered emotion. Psychologically, we then try post-hoc justification of what we've already decided, often allowing ourselves to jump through ridiculous logical hoops to try and seem reasonable. If that fails, we might even abandon pretense at rationality and simply appeal to unknown or unknowable forces that don't have to obey the rigid laws of reality.

By all rights, we ought to still be living in caves and banging rocks together.

And yet, we're not. We live in sky scrapers and mansions, apartments and houses. We travel around our planet at hundreds of miles an hour, or off of it at thousands. We create languages that lead to novels and poetry, instruments that produce punk rock and symphonies, artworks that inspire great emotions.

Of course, we've also created weapons of mass distruction. We've severely imbalanced if not outright destroyed entire ecologies. We've perfected genocide, popularized prejudice, and fought for thousands of years in the names of so-called benevolent deities.

95% of what we do as a species is irrational to say the least. It's that last 5%, though, that must give us pause. That last 5% gives us science, and reason, and medicine, and technology... all the things we associate with progress.

And while hope is silly, irrational, a product of the first 95%, it is hope that drives us again and again to thinking that maybe, just maybe, that last 5% can, in the end, make up for all the rest.

Which brings us to tonight, and my own personal moment of irrationality: here's hoping that, in the coning year, every one of you finds enough benefit from that last 5% to make the other 95 worthwhile.

Happy New Year.



Planetx_123 said...

Nice post.

It's frustrating that even those things which are in their "core" part of the 5% (science, for example), we still manage to pollute them with artifacts of the 95%. I'm thinking of the politics that sometimes control journal publications; the wrong incentives that drive some decision making in pharmaceutical companies, etc. It's really a reminder that there is in fact no separation between the irrational and rational. It seems its a natural consequence of our biology that we cannot have the rational without the irrational. Which gets back to your point: maybe a more evolved human can strive to move that 5% up a bit :-)

One Observationist said...

Good post. I wonder sometimes if there is something in our genetic makeup that predisposes us to stupidity (irrationality). I have seen some of the brightest people fall into this trap. Everyone I have ever met is irrational at one point or another.

I second your New Year wish/hope/goal. It would be nice to experience the 5% a little more often in 2011!

One Observationist said...

Another thought I just had goes back to a comment you made.

What if, the irrationality is the cause for all the "good" (rational) things that happen? Maybe the rational is a result of the irrational. Examples might include the Holocaust, destroying portions of the environment (hunting whales or over fishing), religious wars, etc. A lot of rational ideas and policies are a direct result of irrational behavior and actions.

Just a thought. Thanks!

Planetx_123 said...

well i suspect some, maybe much irrationality is a consequence of quick, inaccurate decision making relying on inaccurate heuristics -- i.e. emotions. I think its easy to see that when you increase adrenaline -> acetylcoline increase -> cognative incentive to make decisions faster -> lower fidelity in reasoning. Certainly other neuronal pathways (the kind from greed or self-interest, self-preservation) have similar impacts to cognition-- and probably many of which are controversial anyways. I mean that there may be some trickiness in categorizing some decisions as rational or irrational in that I dont know that we are able to universally define good or bad... I dont know-- maybe we'd have to look to the philosophers for some answers there. Im thinking of decision making for "me" vs decision making for "all". We can probably agree that because of the short, finite constraint of the average human lifespan-- it would be difficult to universally say that "right" answers are one or the other (at least can probably agree that it gets into the realm of philosophy).

Nonetheless, I would suspect that yes there is quite a bit in our biology and evolutionary history that contributes significantly to this rational/irrational breakdown.


One Observationist said...

Hey Steve - I think I see what you are driving at with rational vs irrational. I had a discussion one time with an acquaintance about good and evil and how both terms were subjective depending on the person. Everyone seems to have their own definition. Though there may not be a direct correlation with the two discussions, I think there might be a common theme.