Friday, November 13, 2009

All hail irrationality!!!!

Nietzsche once said, “In everything one thing is impossible: rationality.” Yet, we hear our professors, our parents and quite of lot of others say, think rationally. I ask myself, what do they mean? It’s not like we got a button in our brains which we switch on and off whenever we want to think rationally or be irrational. A human’s base instinct is to get the most for himself/herself, to survive. To be selfish, is to be human?
But, what if you don’t want to just survive, what if you want to know, what if you want to feel and enjoy, what if you want everybody to be able to enjoy what you are enjoying, what then? Too many questions and too little time to answer; I guess, the fundamental problem with this is that we look at everything from one and only one perspective, ours. We try making the best judgements from our perspectives, our eyes, and the neurons in our brains. The fallacy in this is that, in looking through our perspectives, we forget about other’s perspectives. The academics, who like giving fancy names to everything, call this the bounded rationality of humans. All humans, well, a major component of humanity at least, wants and tries to be rational. Yet, when they make judgements, their emotions play a major role in that judgement. Emotions are just one of the cognitive biases, we humans possess, making it ever so impossible to actually make a decision completely rational.
Hundreds of hours and millions have been spent trying to understand rationality, cognitive biases and how to account for the biases so that human actions can be predicted. Yet, the closer we get to predicting, we find more and more inaccuracies which we can’t account for.
This forces me to ask the questions, why in the world are we so worried about being rational? Has being rational helped?
If you come up and tell me, well, if we had been rational, we could have avoided wars, we could have avoided genocides, poverty and what not. I wouldn’t totally agree with you, because, if we ever had wars, genocides, poverty etc. it has been because somebody has been selfish enough to maximise his returns will minimising his inputs, which as per the rational choice theory is being rational, forcing his version of the rational in the process. So, if you look at it through, Hitler’s or Idi Amin’s or Mussolini’s perspective, they thought, they were doing the right thing by creating a world that they felt was less random and more reasonable. The war for land, riches and resources is driven by rationality as per the perspective of the governments/heads of the warring countries/clans. Your rationality now tells you, they were wrong to do what they did, but under those conditions, they did what they thought was rational. Only, now we see it as being irrational. So, it was not only irrationality, but a good dose of rationality as well, which contributed to all the atrocities in this world.
If we were to be completely rational, we wouldn’t worry about optimising the system (the system being the society or the world we live in) over the unit in the system (the unit being us, human beings, of course. Although, this process of being selfish creates a pattern which in turn helps the system indirectly). At the same time, it is emotions that make us cringe when we see children in Sudan crying for food, cry out in outrage at the wrongs in the world, make an effort to change things, dream, make spontaneous decisions and find new things and enjoy good music, food and arts.
Once you take out all the biases, what remains in us is not something human, it is just a computer which can walk, talk, and make decisions on its own. What make humans human are these irrationalities, these small glitches in our head. It is these same irrationalities that make us happy when we achieve something, angry when we fail or underachieve, sad when we miss something or somebody sorely and so on. Without emotions, we are not human anymore. Without irrationality, rationality is just a 11-letter word, humans created, which has no meaning. Rationality without irrationality is like good without evil, happiness without sadness, peace without war, and life without death.
As the war between irrationality and rationality wages on, what we need to do is not to force our perspective of the rational on others but, to take a step back, look at things from their perspective, look at it from a third person’s perspective, think, appreciate and try understand because there could be some method in all that madness, after all.
All this conflict in this write-up is because, I have been trying to show, how conflicted and limited, human reasoning can be, and however rational we try to be, and try make everything look rational, what we need to realise is that all humans are irrational and random to a certain extent and that breaks down our own attempt to make everything around us appear rational.
As Sartre put it so aptly in his Existentialism is a Humanism: "Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards."

1 comment:

Dexter said...


hi raman.. i hope u r good there... u know i wud disagree with most of what u said but... gr8... good wat u r doing... keep thinking... !