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Thread: Beyond the Limits of Rationality

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    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    Beyond the Limits of Rationality

    So I think it's safe to assume that folks here have a great appreciation for rationality...but at the same time, it's not exactly the aspect of our personalities that gives us wings, so to speak...in fact, it tends to hold us back in a lot of ways when we rely on it more than all our other faculties. Especially in cases where we're dealing with matters of great complexity and unpredictability (say, in pursuing a career, or engaging in relationships, or writing a book, etc.), rationality seems to have the effect of holding us back.

    Now, I happened upon this idea while researching vaccines...and holy crap if there isn't just too much to know and unnderstand about them. There simply isn't a clear dividing line across which to take a pro or anti vax position...there are so many different vaccines, with different ingredients, and different side effects, and different ways of acting on our immune systems, and so many additional factors. It would seem that there are plenty of vaccines that are very effective, and others that are largely ineffective(flu vax) and others that are downright harmful(gardasil)...and while the science is complex enough on its own, it is all further exacerbated by the corporate monster working to distort, manipulate, sell, and profit. There's so much contention regarding the credibility of whistleblowers on the vaccine front that one can't simply look to an authority(for or against) to give them the full picture.
    Anyhow, taking a position for or against vaccines is like taking a position for or against medications in general...

    So it seems the issue of complexity can't be addressed by commonly known and practiced approaches. One basically gets lost in the details when they rely on rationality alone.


    There seem to be 5 common mechanisms for coping with complexity:

    1. Trial and Error - not efficient, not advanced, but a starting point at least.

    2. Repression - clinging to old behavioural patterns and denial of complexities

    3. Rationality - Understanding details (tends to be counterproductive in the modern world of commerce)

    4. Focusing on less criteria - "simplify your life" slogan; Trivialisation is beneficial within simple systems, but it actually undermines and destroys complex systems...so, for example, a focus on rates, profit and prices, at the expense of concern with the environment, is pretty destructive. Counting on the market to self-correct and kill profits in order to save the environment doesn't work.

    5. Emotional Assessment of Value/Intuition - Not particularly reliable...but....


    ...when we are reasonably informed on a subject, suddenly the reliability of an emotional/intuitive assessment increases immensely...particularly in a group setting where a threshold of consensus can be reached by a portion of the group.
    So, to put it in terms we're familiar with, consider an election...
    When those called to establish a consensus are not informed, we end up electing folks based on emotional/intuitive assessments, and we do quite poorly...electing folks like GW Bush, and Stephen Harper.

    When we're called to establish a consensus and we try to do it based entirely on rationality, folks simply don't vote, because the issues and the individuals are too complex for us to decide upon.

    Now, when we're called to establish a consensus and we're reasonably informed, it is then that we're capable of making successful decisions based on emotions and intuition. Emotion and intuition are the faculties that take us beyond the limits of the rational, even though they frequently seem less advanced.
    In MBTI terms, it is better to develop both T and F than to be dominant in one or the other.

    Apparently this happens in animal packs, when they're deciding, say, which way to go in order to find the next watering hole or food supply. Collective intuition and networking are the best path to resolution when the basic condition of intuition is congruent with the current stage of development.

    This paper is an interesting read on the subject, and it deals with other approaches to decision making as well:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...c_location=ufi

    Anyhow, I think it's interesting to consider how we can transcend the limits of rationality. I mean, the fact that the greatest minds in history haven't managed to establish a philosophy that warrants fundamentalist adherence is reason to consider that our advancement as a species has relied greatly on our various other faculties, too.

    I like to think of the intellect as best employed in service of one's heart.
    ...the origin of emotional sickness lay in people’s belief that they were their personalities...
    "The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong." ~Carl Jung

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    凸(ಠ_ರೃ )凸 stuck's Avatar
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    The other option is to vet a community of experts or individual expert and refer to a few of those in order to guide our judgements.

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    Read "Joseph Heath - Enlightenment 2.0" for a good explanation of the two ways in which human beings reason. Rational thought is inherently slow, sequential and tiring but also self-correcting and transferable. Intuition is fast, takes no effort and very good at what it does, but is opaque, prone to errors and difficult to control. Heath writes that when we discovered that rationality wasn't the answer to *everything, ever*, we've become somewhat desilusioned and now we give it too little credit. The idea that people are incapable of being anything other than stupid, untrustworthy and selfish is very popular now but is equally wrong as the idea that we are capable of transcending all of those things.

    An analogy he comes back to often, which I like, is that our bodies and brains are an extremely inefficient piece of hardware that is not designed to run the software that is rational thought. We manage it anyway through the use of tools, language, time and working together.
    Last edited by Buddha; 04-21-2015 at 10:24 PM.

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    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    I think you have it backwards, the part about emotion and intuition taking us beyond the limits of rationality.

    I'd posit that emotion and intuition developed earlier than rationality and as a result are much quicker and fine tuned to what worked in the past. Now that's a loaded term right there... 'what worked in the past', so I'll qualify that what worked in the past might well work today.

    But, it is the tool of rational thought, slow, laborious and limited, that allows humans to carve out new solution spaces. We don't always need new solution spaces.

    As far as being acquainted with a topic - any information processing depends on quality and quantity of data input. People make stupid snap decisions, stupid deliberate decisions and stupid emotional reactions based on bad input.

    TL;DR It's just different forms of computing

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    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stuck View Post
    The other option is to vet a community of experts or individual expert and refer to a few of those in order to guide our judgements.
    I don't think that gets us beyond the limits of rationality, actually. It's a consequence of the limits of rationality that we defer...either to an 'authority' or a committee or whatever...that ultimately relies on...specialized rationality. It also calls for a good deal of trust in others.

    Actually, this system is basically what we have in politics...only there's so much potential for corruption...due largely to the power structure.

    Operating as a network rather than as a hierarchy seems preferable.
    ...the origin of emotional sickness lay in people’s belief that they were their personalities...
    "The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong." ~Carl Jung

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    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buddha View Post
    Read "Joseph Heath - Enlightenment 2.0" for a good explanation of the two ways in which human beings reason. Rational thought is inherently slow, sequential and tiring but also self-correcting and transferable. Intuition is fast, takes no effort and very good at what it does, but is opaque, prone to errors and difficult to control. Heath writes that when we discovered that rationality wasn't the answer to *everything, ever*, we've become somewhat desilusioned and now we give it too little credit. The idea that people are incapable of being anything other than stupid, untrustworthy and selfish is very popular now but is equally wrong as the idea that we are capable of transcending all of those things.

    An analogy he comes back to often, which I like, is that our bodies and brains are an extremely inefficient piece of hardware that is not designed to run the software that is rational thought. We manage it anyway through the use of tools, language, time and working together.
    I think our bodies and brains are extremely efficient...given what little we require for fuel, and what we're capable of doing with it, we're freakin' amazing.
    Anyhow, I think the trouble with the rational is that it is inherently slow, yes...and the idea is that once one reaches a certain threshold of understanding/being informed, then it becomes efficient and reliable to count on intuition/emotion to take you the rest of the way.
    Intuition alone is not sufficient, but when it is supplemented by reason its efficacy goes up exponentially...making us highly efficient.
    ...the origin of emotional sickness lay in people’s belief that they were their personalities...
    "The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong." ~Carl Jung

  7. #7
    Amen P-O's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robcore View Post
    Operating as a network rather than as a hierarchy seems preferable.
    You mean like the borg?

    I think even within a network structure, you're still going to have authority figures. Human brains aren't well designed for parallel processing; so I don't see how you're going to make it work without having, for example, a local medical expert.
    Violence is never the right answer, unless used against heathens and monsters.

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    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starjots View Post
    I think you have it backwards, the part about emotion and intuition taking us beyond the limits of rationality.

    I'd posit that emotion and intuition developed earlier than rationality and as a result are much quicker and fine tuned to what worked in the past. Now that's a loaded term right there... 'what worked in the past', so I'll qualify that what worked in the past might well work today.
    I think you've missed the counter-intuitive insight in the OP. Of course emotion and intuition developed faster and probably earlier than rationality...because when you're running from a Sabre Toothed Tiger, you don't have time to evaluate a lot of options.
    While rationality has improved our lot in the evolutionary process of things, it, like the emotion/instinct/intuition that preceded it, has its limitations.
    Now, rather than saying that intuition is superior, I'm saying that it is more effective than rationality once you are generally informed on a complex topic.
    Rationality is not sufficient to resolve complex issues...because the endless factors end up paralyzing the process.

    Understanding is not sufficient to arrive at resolution of an issue.

    I mean, just try setting out to say something definitive about vaccines without resorting to the 5 (ineffective) mechanisms listed in the OP. The subject is simply too diverse and complex, even for experts in the field, to express a position that is purely rational.

    But, it is the tool of rational thought, slow, laborious and limited, that allows humans to carve out new solution spaces. We don't always need new solution spaces.

    As far as being acquainted with a topic - any information processing depends on quality and quantity of data input. People make stupid snap decisions, stupid deliberate decisions and stupid emotional reactions based on bad input.
    Yes, but with complex problems, rationality tends to be insufficient, if not also counter-productive, because it is not capable of contending with all the relevant and potentially relevant factors. It tends to slow us down and stall us out. It is a linear process, and it is not capable of resolving problems that are essentially non-linear or organic in nature...essentially the process and experience of life itself is not resolvable by the rational alone. At best, the rational can inform us what is, but it is not sufficient to guide us to what we ought to do. Making sense of things is generally about defining them in terms of the logical and rational...but that simply isn't possible when we get to complex issues like relationship dynamics, love, politics, spirituality, philosophy, and many other expansive and complex fields of inquiry.

    Rationality contends beautifully with simple issues...in ways that intuition and emotion certainly cannot compete...but, once again, theis is about transcending the limits of the rational...and those limits seem to be reached when we're contending with these very complex subject matters.
    ...the origin of emotional sickness lay in people’s belief that they were their personalities...
    "The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong." ~Carl Jung

  9. #9
    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by P-O View Post
    You mean like the borg?

    I think even within a network structure, you're still going to have authority figures. Human brains aren't well designed for parallel processing; so I don't see how you're going to make it work without having, for example, a local medical expert.
    That definitely highlights the critical factor with all this...identifying the threshold that defines 'adequately informed' to the point where intuition and emotion can effectively take over.
    ...the origin of emotional sickness lay in people’s belief that they were their personalities...
    "The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong." ~Carl Jung

  10. #10
    do you know what the most primitive emotion of humans are? it's fear. fear is the reason why we have come to survive. fear. nothing but fear... ahahahahaha

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