Off the ship of fools: what is the "reasonable man" in the twenty-first century


© Frauke Thielking

Plato compared the life of the unconscious with the observation of shadows on the cave walls. Today the cave has been replaced by a huge supermarket, where visitors on the loudspeaker saying that they are nothing more than a tangle of passions, which still, to roll. How true is this statement? Translation of the article of Stephen Pool on the public consciousness, cognitive distortions and manipulation.

The success of humanity and its self-perception today are hamstrung curious contradictions. It is possible to bring Autonomous robots to Mars or using genetic engineering to make mosquitoes sterile, yet the news from popular psychology, neuroscience, Economics and other fields assert that we are not as healthy as it used to be. Humanity has fallen victim to consistent errors, clinging to their desire to win and always be right. In the best case — the legend — our capacity to be reasonable is in constant war with the inner irrational darkness. At worst should not stop trying to be completely rational.

The feeling of distrust in our rational abilities thanks to the powerful impulse on the part of behavioral Economics, in particular, for collaborative research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the 1980s, the results of which were presented in Kahneman's bestseller "Think slowly... Decide fast." In it Kahneman abstractly broke the mind into two allegorical systems, the intuitive "System 1", often giving the wrong answers, and judging reflective "System 2". "Helpful "System 2" is how we think of ourselves, but most of the time at the helm is the intuitive, biased, irrational "System 1".

Other versions of the same thoughts expressed in a more negative way. "You are not so smart" (2011) — bestseller David Makrani devoted to cognitive biases. According to the article "Why do people make judgments" (2011), written by researchers cognitivists Hugo Marise and Dan Sperber, our supposedly rational faculties had developed to search for the truth, but only in order to achieve a winning argument. And in his book "the Righteous mind" (2012), psychologist Jonathan haidt articulates the idea that our most noble attribute — only delusion". He adds: "the Cult of reason is an example of faith in something that does not exist." The brain that support the domination of common sense, often turns out to be confusing, crude and careless interplay of cognitive biases and fear.

We can say that this scientistic interpretation of original sin. Such a quick adoption of this position by public figures should have alerted. Culture, believing that its representatives are not able to think, will be to treat them differently than the one that respects their reflective autonomy. What cultures we would like to belong to? There is a choice. After all, the concept of a compromised mind is much more problematic than imagine her followers.

In most treatises implies that rationality is what separates us from the state of the animal. Plato argued that misology (hatred of reason) originates in the same place and the hatred of mankind. Aristotle said that man is "a rational being"; it seemed obvious and Benedict Spinoza: "As a dog — creature laydee, and man — thinking". Of course, philosophers have been long disputes about the nature and boundaries of reason. Kant was opposed to the "rationalists, such as Leibniz, who argued that pure reason is able to uncover the nature of reality. Hegel insisted that individual thinkers can't escape its own historical context, and Hume said that reason alone does not motivate to action.

More recently, there was a General view that the mind, regardless of the nature and boundaries is a defining aspect of being human

More recently, there was a General view that the mind, regardless of the nature and boundaries is a defining aspect of human existence. On this basis, rose reached the apogee of despair, which was imbued with the romantic texts of antirationalist in the second half of the twentieth century sincerely believes that Education led to the Gulag and the Holocaust. Criticism of reason was an expression of the pessimistic view of humanity in General. Today humanity are able to abandon the idea that rationality is its main feature. But despite the presentation of evidence, — whether?

Irrational is not man in General, and the modern homo economicus.

Modern skeptical view of rationality in most is based on years of research in cognitive distortions. We are susceptible to irrational phenomena, such as "effect anchors" (for example, if we are asked to think of any numbers you choose will have an impact on subsequent answers, even if the issues are not linked) or "error of availability" (we judge the object in accordance with the most obvious to us examples, not taking into account the whole range of situations and views). More fundamental is the problem of demonstrating that allegations of human "irrationality" in the first place depend on what is meant by "rationality".

During the development of game theory and the theory of decision-making in the mid-twentieth century under the "reasonable person" is now considered an individual, a loner, whose decisions are determined by the pursuit of maximum benefits, and preferences (mathematically or logically) consistent, connected for a long time. Regarding the way this homo economicus man really seems irrational. An elegant demonstration of this fact were to explore Kaneman-Tversky recent years. Choosing during complex bets, a person prefers one in which the losses are smallest, because smaller losses are presented more clearly than is their potential profit.

Imagine that you are told the following about Linda:

— Linda is 31 years old. She is unmarried, relaxed and very bright. Her major concerns of philosophy. During the students she dealt with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

Then which of these statements is more probable?

Linda is a Bank teller.

Linda is a Bank teller and is involved in the feminist movement.

Most of the answers that the second option is more likely. Kahneman argues that in statistical terms this option is not more likely than the first. "The people who choose the second item, says Kahneman — believe that Linda belongs to a smaller community, rather than to more, include the first. Mathematically it's wrong." Example Kahneman sought to demonstrate how the installation in the mind, generated by inaccurate information about person Linda, empower us to make so-called a conjunction of fallacies, which leads to "irrational" judgment.


However, this approach does not include some important nuances. Consider what the philosopher Paul Grice called communicative implicatures. In accordance with the relevance Maxim of Grice people assume that the information about person Linda indicated, as it has a value. This leads them to the removal of probability, different from the actual mathematical as strictly mathematical answer obessmyslili this way of personality. (In the end, we could reasonably wonder, why do have been given this information?) Maybe the respondents giving the "wrong" answer, interpretiruya probability as something akin to narrative plausibility?

Tellingly, in 1999, the psychologists Ralph Hertwig and Gerd Gigerenzer said that if the same riddle to offer in terms of relative frequencies, not probabilities, people often will give the mathematically correct answer. I should add that if we are talking about credibility, the version of "a Bank clerk and is active in the feminist movement" sounds much more realistic. Perhaps, therefore, this conclusion is definitely rational, it leads to the according to all available information.

There are many important reasons to give "wrong" answers to questions, identifying cognitive distortions. Kognitivnyj psychologist Jonathan Evans was the first who made the assumption about the bidirectional nature of the judgments — in 1980. But he resisted talking in terms of "System 1" and "System 2" and opposed premised installations, attributing cognitive distortions irrational nature. In the survey of 2005, he proposed the following situation. For example, a Respondent asked the question:

If she met a friend, going to the theatre.

She met a friend.

What follows from this?

As expected, 96% of people doing correct logical inference: she goes to the theatre. But look what happens when you enter a conditional judgment:

If she met a friend, going to the theatre.

If she has enough money, she would go to the theater.

She met a friend.

What follows from this?

Now only 38% of respondents give such a clear answer. In a strictly logical framework of the rest 62% are wrong. Evans explains: "In formal logic, the argument, drawn from certain assumptions need to be displayed, if you add new information." However, people who doubt that she'll go to the theatre, not necessarily being irrational. Evans considers their thought process: "Additional conditional proposition leads to the question of the truth of previous judgements. People are starting to think that even if someone wants to go to the theater with a friend, he may not be able to afford it. Therefore, it is reasonable that people can't give a definite answer."

One interesting consequence of a broader interpretation of rationality is that it becomes much harder to refute opponents. In an article entitled "the Evidence base of climate science" (2013), Dan Kahan, Professor of law and psychology, argues that people who reject the accepted facts about global warming and the host instead of the facts of his colleagues, in a sense, are models of rationality.

"Nothing that the normal woman thinks about global warming, will not directly affect her life or the life of someone she cares. However, if it is about the attitude towards this phenomenon from the point of view of those people closely associated socially, whom she respects, or whom, she could seriously hurt — starting with the fact that it will avoid old acquaintances, and ending with dismissal. The fact that for such an individual to commit an error regarding science is nothing but the consequences of social exclusion in this case would be disastrous. So in the subjective relation to it is really rational avoidance of open confrontation, opposing their position — the view of cultural groups."

Of course, if the totality of individuals — "individual rationalities" in the terminology of Kahane, reflects group behavior, we can conclude that in General, the group enters irrational, rejecting sound scientific arguments. Perhaps this is the intelligent version of the well-known tragedy of the Commons: the individual is acting "reasonably" in accordance with its own interests (the desire to get maximum of the total share), but the overall behavior (excessive cattle grazing and, as a consequence, the destruction of fertile soil) would be irrational. We should not be surprised that groups, like individuals, can act in a rational or irrational way. The crowd did not mind shines.

We should not be surprised that groups, like individuals, can act in a rational or irrational way. The crowd did not mind shines

However, there are empathic significance in the intention to detect that the individual receives, sharing obviously false representation. The argument of Kahana is about a woman who doesn't believe in global warming, is a surprising and persuasive example of a General principle: if we want to understand others, it is worth asking what makes their behavior is rational from their point of view. On the other hand, if we assume that they are entirely irrational, the dialogue will not take place.

In a nutshell, we are talking about the problem of the practical application of behavioral Economics in the modern system of governance by "encouraging" policy. Kahane opposes what he calls the thesis of public irrationality — the idea that most citizens act irrationally. He stands on the position that this claim is unwarranted, however, liberal-paternalistic creators of the above forms of political interaction just accept it, as they say, is in our own interest.

This idea became popular thanks to the book "Shake", written by law Professor Kassam Santhanam and economist Richard Thaler. In it, they believe that official policy needs to deliberately circumvent the process of reflection and make judgments in society. How? During the creation of "architecture of choice", where alternative options are usually focused on people with certain cognitive weaknesses, guaranteeing a majority to make the desired decision. For example, in the school cafeteria can supply healthy food at eye level (like a supermarket), displacing "junk" foods in hard to reach places. This technique aims at the laziness of immediate perception and action.

The manipulator is a benevolent God who created the labyrinth, leading sinners to "correct" the output.

Stimulation became a huge success in the governments of different countries. The UK government has created a Cabinet "Behavioral group understanding" (informally known as "units of stimulation"), later partly privatized. Similar approaches have been tried in France, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.

Compared to logic puzzles Kahneman, a wider understanding of rationality is difficult to discern affected by the manipulation of thought processes. In the best case they can be flexible as rules are only rules of thumb ("rule of thumb" for quick decisions — but this does not mean that they will facilitate reasonable actions, while the Manager selection ("architect") will not allow flow in the desired direction, deciding unilaterally what the solution in this context would be considered rational. The manipulator is a benevolent God who created the labyrinth, leading sinners to "correct" the output. The stimulating policy can be seen as the development of a worrying trend, which the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre noted as early as 1988:

"The consumer, the voter and the individual in General have the right to Express their preferences by choosing from the proposed alternatives, however, their range is controlled by the elite — exactly the same as the way I present them. Within liberalism the members of the ruling elite became those who linked high competence convincingly presents alternatives — that is, purely cosmetic, appearance. (Whose justice? What kind of rationality?)".

Stimulation — not a dystopian tool of state control: formally we are free to make "wrong" choices. However, there is something disturbing about how easily marginalize the political debate. Is it always unwise to eat fatty foods? Speaking about the donation: do we always need happy to do it? This is a vague questions that generate the opposite opinion, but architecture selection is not intended to know the public position. Attempt to circumvent the process of independent thinking in the us creates the problem of consent and closure of democracy. Why waste power, resulting in political arguments, if you can skillfully guide people to the desired solution.

Why waste power, resulting in political arguments, if you can skillfully guide people to the desired solution

Manipulative techniques are increasingly combined with means of control through personalized technology: as example the smart card, due to which the resident is regularly attending the gym, gets a reduction in local taxes. This makes it easier to blame the individuals in their poor health and to raise premiums if their "bad behavior" was recorded and proved. ("What else could explain the poor health of the population, as not his own shortcomings?", — sarcastically asks critic Evgeny Morozov. "Of course, it is not in the power of food companies, class contradictions, political and economic injustices".) If the rejection manipulation leads to financial or any other penalties, how much freedom remains in the proposed options?

It is also possible that excessive manipulation is also irrational. In 2011 was published the report of the Subcommittee of science and technology in the house of lords, which said that "soft" approaches, including incentives, is not enough to solve social problems — for example, problems of transport maintenance or obesity. Moreover, because the stimulation and manipulation is based on automatic people indulging their passions, their effectiveness will be undermined if people can overcome their inclinations.


Many researchers believe that increasing the level of intelligence of your life by simply reminding ourselves in specific situations about those tendencies which at this moment may become a target. Kahneman believes that this form of eliminating the bias is difficult to achieve reliably, but in his area there are colleagues that are configured to be more optimistic. One of them is psychologist Keith Stanovich, who in his book "Mind and reflective consciousness" (2011) follows the tripartite structure of mental systems: "Autonomous" (in the power of prejudice), "algorithmic" and "reflective." He demonstrates the difference between intelligence in the narrow sense (regardless of the results of IQ or exam), which is responsible for the "algorithmic" mind, accurate judgment, which he attributes to the mind "reflexive". The good news is that intelligent thinking can be taught.

To do so means to carry out the idea of the public mind. You can imagine that for manipulators this event would be a disappointment. Because the stimulation is realized by suitable human inclinations, and the program of development of thinking, prepared by Stanovice would be a kind of stumbling block. In this sense, politics manipulation is in contradiction with the public mind: its viability depends entirely on the human inability to cope with their passions.

Policy manipulation is in contradiction with the public mind: its viability depends entirely on the human inability to cope with their passions.

The public mind, the most effective antidote to skepticism about our mental abilities. In the end there is one thing that can give hope to the pessimists from behavioural Economics, that which they so well together prove the flaws in the reasoning of a thinker can be corrected only when they become part of the conversation. The discourse about cognitive distortions inside of himself was constructed in accordance with the highest requirements of collective rationality — and if that sounds like empty praise of the luminaries of this science, we can recall that the theorists were primarily men, to talk is also in accordance with the standards of public rationality, with which began the conquest of space.

Reasonableness is a public institution that grants legitimacy to social and political institutions of our civilization.

Indeed, even in the words of Jonathan Haidt about the illusory nature of the cult of reason, one can perceive a celebration of the human ability to think together. "If you put individuals in the right direction," he writes in the book "right mind" — so that some of them will be able to use the power of judgment to overcome objections from others, and individuals will feel a common bond and a common lot, allowing you to interact in a civilized manner, you will be able to create a group, the culmination of which will be the production of rationality as emergent properties of social systems"

Each of us can name some examples of successful unions of individuals to state bodies that maintain a high level of rationality: the scientific community, universities, and sometimes even debating chamber of the government. Indeed, rationality is a public institution that grants legitimacy to other social and political institutions of civilization.

Skeptics have less reason to doubt the human ability to be rational. Critics of the theory of cognitive distortions argue that people are not so individually irrational, as it is in the contemporary cultural environment. They claim that anyone can develop their rationality through practice. But even if each of us acted irrationally as often as I paint the most pessimistic picture, it could be the reason for the transformation of democratic thinking in the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as it tries to make policy stimulation. On the contrary, public reason is our best hope for survival. Even an informed judgment that rationality fatally compromised, in itself, is an exercise in rationality. However, perverse and, one can assume, the harmful.



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