In Everything One Thing is Impossible: Rationality

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How Your Trust in Rationality Makes You Irrational


Many of our snap judgments are hard-won. They result from extensive experience or practice in some domain. But in spite that people hold potentially misguided beliefs for all sorts of reasons. People want to be loyal to the values of their family, friends, political party, or religion. Some want to make a good impression for their boss and potential future employers. Others want to avoid conflict around those with whom they know will disagree. In other words, there are many reasons, some of which are actually rational, as to why we often reason poorly. Becuase of basis, common sense is neither common nor sense. There’s not a whole of sound judgment going on these days (though whether it is worse than in the past, I can’t be sure), so it’s not common. If common sense was common, then most people wouldn’t make the kinds of decisions they do every day. People wouldn’t buy stuff they can’t afford. They wouldn’t smoke cigarettes or eat junk food. They wouldn’t gamble. And if you want to get really specific and timely, politicians wouldn’t be tweeting pictures of their private parts to strangers. People wouldn’t do the multitude of things that are clearly not good for them. Common sense isn’t real sense if we define sense as being sound judgment because relying on experience alone doesn’t usually offer enough information to draw reliable conclusions.  Real sense can rarely be derived from experience alone because most people’s experiences are limited. Becuase of our limited experinces true rationality doesn’t exist as common sense is a fallacy that has been foisted on us by our culture of ideology (any ideology that wants to tell us what we should think and do) that prefers us to be stupid, ill-informed, and poor decision-makers. common sense is a fallacy that has been foisted on us by our culture of ideology (any ideology that wants to tell us what we should think and do) that prefers us to be stupid, ill-informed, and poor decision-makers as common sense is often used by people who don’t have the real knowledge, expertise, or direct experience to actually make sound judgments. Furthermore the media plays a significant role in our decisions. You cannot turn on the TV or read a paper or magazine without seeing examples of opulence and those who live expensive lifestyles. Humans want to be “in”, admired by others, and looked at as someone important and powerful. The constant barrage can impact our decisions.

How is common sense is actually making us stupid?

The unfortunate reality is that trusting common sense, in point of fact, causes us to make poor rather than sound judgments. Perhaps the biggest problem with common sense is that it falls prey to the clear limits of personal experience. Or, we don’t even have any actual experience in the matter and rely simply on what we believe to be true or have been told is true, what we might label “faith-based sense” (in the broadest sense of the word faith). For example, when you’re having a discussion about just about anything that requires taking a stand, for example, the weather, the economy, raising children, sports, what have you, how often do you hear some variation of “It’s been my experience that [fill in the blank]” and the person then draws a conclusion based on said experience? And how often is that conclusion wildly at odds with the facts? No very often in reality. Our faith in common sense is what is really driving us to be irrational.  Experts tell us that humans are poor reasoners. We fail miserably at rather simple conditional logic tasks of the following form: You are presented with four cards each of which has a number on one side and a letter on the other. For example, you are presented with four cards that show 4, 7, E, and K. You are given the following task: Which two cards must you turn over to test the truth of the proposition that if a card shows a vowel on one side then there is an even number on the other side? Take a guess. The correct answer is that you turn over the card with the E (that’s the easy one) and your turn over the card with the number 7 (huh?). Most people get this wrong. In fact, research shows that less than 10% of people flip over the correct cards (Evans et al., 1993). Most people find themselves flipping the letter E, which is correct and flipping the card with the number 4, which is incorrect. Moreover, a long list of cognitive biases has been generated showing how we reason differently about two pieces of information which are exactly equal in logic but differ in wording (framing effect), use irrelevant information to color how we understand probability (conjunction fallacy), reason about the rate of something based on how easily we can recall events (availability heuristic), find evidence to confirm our preexisting beliefs (confirmation bias), and much more. The reason is that we fall victim to a veritable laundry list of cognitive biases that cause us to engage in distorted, imprecise, and incomplete thinking which, not surprisingly, results in “perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation” and, by extension, poor and sometimes catastrophic decisions.

So what drives irrational thought

The first factor that drives irrational thought is fallacy, A fallacy is some kind of defect in an argument and may be either intentional (aimed at deceiving) or, more commonly, unintentional. A formal fallacy is an invalid type of argument. It is a deductive argument with an invalid form; for example: Some A are B. Some B are C. Therefore, some A are C. If you cannot see that this argument is invalid, complete A, B, and C with ‘insects’, ‘herbivores’, and ‘mammals’. Insects are clearly not mammals. A formal fallacy is built into the structure of an argument and is invalid irrespective of the content of the argument. In contrast, an informal fallacy is one that can be identified only through an analysis of the content of the argument. Informal fallacies often turn on the misuse of language; for example, using a key term or phrase in an ambiguous way, with one meaning in one part of the argument and another meaning in another part (fallacy of equivocation). Informal fallacies can also distract from the weakness of an argument, or appeal to the emotions rather than to reason.

Here are a few examples of informal fallacies:

  • Of course he’s guilty: even his mother has turned her back on him. (Appeal to popularity)
  • Some people are in favor of building a third runway at the existing airport, while others are in favor of building a brand new airport. The two parties ought to compromise by erecting a new terminal building at the existing airport. (Argument to moderation)
  • Tim is useless and Bob is a drunk. So I’ll marry Jimmy. He’s the right man for me. (Damning the alternatives)
  • Despite their best efforts, scientists have never found any evidence of current or past life on Mars. So we can be pretty sure that there has never been any life on Mars. (Argument from ignorance)

All self-deception can be understood in terms of ego defense. In psychoanalytic theory, an ego defence is one of several unconscious processes that we deploy to diffuse the fear and anxiety that arise when we who we truly are (our unconscious ‘id’) comes into conflict with who we think we are or who we think we should be (our conscious ‘superego’). For example, a person who buys a $10,000 watch instead of a $1,000 watch because “you can really tell the difference in quality” is not only hiding his (unrecognized) craving to be loved, but also disguising it as an ego-enhancing virtue, namely, a concern for quality. Whereas formal and informal fallacies are more about faulty reasoning, self-deception is more about hiding from, or protecting, oneself. Another factor that influences irrational thought is Cognitive bias. Cognitive bias is sloppy, although not necessarily faulty, reasoning: a mental shortcut or heuristic intended to spare us time, effort, or discomfort, often while reinforcing our self-image or worldview, but at the cost of accuracy or reliability. For example, in explaining the behavior of other people, our tendency is to overestimate the role of character traits over situational factors—a bias, called the correspondence bias or attribution effect, that goes into reverse when it comes to explaining our own. Another important cognitive bias is confirmation, or my-side, bias, which is the propensity to search for or recall only those facts and arguments that are in keeping with our pre-existing beliefs while filtering out those that conflict with them—which, especially on social media, can lead us to inhabit a so-called echo chamber behavior. After confirmation basis the another factor that drives irrational thought is Cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortion is a concept from cognitive-behavioral therapy, developed by psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960s and used in the treatment of depression and other mental disorders. Cognitive distortion involves interpreting events and situations so that they conform to and reinforce our outlook or frame of mind, typically on the basis of very scant or partial evidence, or even no evidence at all. Common cognitive distortions in depression include selective abstraction and catastrophic thinking. Selective abstraction is to focus on a single negative event or condition to the exclusion of other, more positive ones. Which brings me to my next point

Why people overreact

It is not our stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it

All of us — on occasion, at least — overreact to the small stuff, often without even realizing it. If you find yourself getting overly angry, upset, or defensive over little things, take comfort in knowing that there are actions you can take to more effectively manage your emotions. okay to feel your emotions and want to explode sometimes, but that way of dealing with situations doesn’t tend to feel so great. Allowing ourselves to acknowledge annoying predicaments and then find constructive ways to express and deal with them serves us much better in the long run. If something truly upsetting happens, it’s perfectly reasonable to get upset. However, it isn’t necessarily good for us to sweat all the small stuff and hype ourselves into an overreaction every time we get upset. Real issues start to arise when we react much more than necessary under the circumstances. For example, someone cutting you off in traffic isn’t a reason to scream, stick your middle finger out the window, and yell at the person in your passenger seat. We’ve all been there, of course, but the reality is, it isn’t very helpful. It only serves to put us at risk of creating a bigger issue or accident. Overreactions never make situations better; in fact, they usually make them worse. Stress in our lives can create the conditions for us to overreact. But even though doing so might release tension in the moment, it doesn’t solve the true source of the stress. All it does is paradoxically create more stress and anxiety. So when you find yourself sweating the small stuff, it might be a sign that there are other, deeper problems you aren’t dealing with, making you liable to blow a gasket at any moment. Many people who overreact tend to overthink situations that don’t go their way, leaving them incapable of thinking about anything else. Overreacting can affect their happiness to the point that it gets in the way of things they really want to do. Entertaining thoughts like, “Why do I have such bad luck?” or “This always happens to me,” only creates more stress and anxiety in their lives. So how can we stop overreacting? The first step is to know your tiggers

How we can find our triggers?

All of us have triggers that can lead us to overreact at times. If we know what those triggers are, we can learn to be more in control of ourselves when our buttons are pushed. Personally, I overreact and feel triggered whenever I work hard on something, and someone is critical of it. I’m pretty positive and encouraging toward others, and I can also take constructive criticism pretty well. However, if I think another person is being unfairly critical, it’s easy for me to lose it. Knowing this about myself, I become more aware of my reactions and try to more calmly respond to people when they’re offering criticism. If you aren’t totally aware of what your triggers are, it might help to reflect on the past week and all the times something upset you. Whether it was justified or not, identify the things that bothered you the most. It could be rejection, criticism, or even something that has nothing to do with you, like someone talking about politics. It’s also important to think about whether you were tired, hungry, or anxious about work in those moments. The last time you overreacted, what was going on with you? Had you not eaten for a while? Was it the end of a hectic week? If you can find out what triggers you and get a sense of the circumstances around those triggers, you might be able to better manage yourself when something upsets you in the future. This gives you time to gain some perspective about what really happened during those moments when you lost your cool. It’s important to look back, not to punish yourself for overreacting, but to learn from the experience. Ask yourself some more questions, like “Why did I do that?” and “What could I have done differently?” If you’re having a hard time reflecting on your actions, separate yourself from the event to get a clearer perspective. How would other people see it? How would your idol handle the same situation? Taking a closer look at the mindset you were operating from in the past isn’t an easy thing to do, but it will help you, in the long run, to respond instead of overreacting. Check your expectations, and make sure they’re realistic. Life can move smoothly at times, but inconveniences are inevitable. People and situations aren’t always predictable. Take yourself out of your own mind, and think about how other people might feel about things. Overreactions sometimes happen when we get hyper-focused on ourselves and our own emotions. None of us is entitled to a perfect life. By taking some time to manage our expectations, we can greatly reduce the chances of overreacting to the imperfections. Always keep in mind that if something has been bothering you for a really long time, the smallest inconvenience can push you overboard. Try to address the past and resolve anything that’s truly bothering you in the present moment. If you don’t, I can assure you that you’ll continue to sweat the small stuff. Address issues head-on as soon as they arise. Let it out so you can let it go and move on. Keep a journal, write a letter, do whatever it takes to talk it out. It’s no secret that life can get tough. And when things don’t go our way, it’s easy to lose patience. Try to manage yourself with the tips below, so that you can appropriately respond to the situations that arise in your life, one at a time.

1. Take a moment. Notice the changes within you (tension in your neck, hot cheeks, elevated heart rate). Keep breathing deeply, and cool down.

2. Rationalize. Think about what just happened rationally by bringing yourself closer to objective truth rather than your subjective experience. Find a way to be compassionate and avoid personalizing what happened to you.

3. Act. Express yourself with “I” statements, or remove yourself from the situation. If you’re still upset, find a way to re-channel how you feel.

and so this brings me to my next point

How the corona virus is worse than you think

COVID-19 is infecting more minds than lungs. But how so? let me explain with this anology; Ask yourself the following: Would you feel confident taking an over-the-counter medication if you were 98 percent sure it would work safely? Would you dare to gamble all your savings in a one-off scheme in which you had a 98 percent chance of losing it all? you have about the same odds of dying of the coronavirus as winning in the gambling scenario. These are overall rates, meaning that unless you are already in very poor health, are very old, or very young, the odds for you are much lower. Or next to nil. Why then are so many countries implementing quarantine measures, shutting down their borders, schools, and soccer games for something that is less likely to happen to anyone than drowning in a single year, or even being hit by lightning in one’s lifetime? Why is the stock-market crashing, and why are school and workplace mass emails, news headlines, social media feeds, and face-to-face conversations dominated by stories about what is essentially a new strand of mild to moderate flu? Our minds like to jump to threatening headlines with big, alarming numbers. As this post was first aired, a total of 80,000 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in 40 countries. To put things in perspective again, this is a mere 0.0001% of the world population. In comparison, seasonal outbreaks of influenza make 3 to 5 million people sick enough to seek treatment worldwide (up to 0.06% of the population) while many more cases go undetected. The seasonal flu results in 290,000 to 650,000 deaths each year — up to 0.008% of the population. Our minds like to jump to threatening headlines with big, alarming numbers. As this post was first aired, a total of 80,000 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in 40 countries. To put things in perspective again, this is a mere 0.0001% of the world population. In comparison, seasonal outbreaks of influenza make 3 to 5 million people sick enough to seek treatment worldwide (up to 0.06% of the population) while many more cases go undetected. The seasonal flu results in 290,000 to 650,000 deaths each year — up to 0.008% of the population. The coronavirus is quite simply, and almost exclusively, a moral panic. This is so in the most literal sense. Human bodies, minds, societies, systems of meaning, norms, and morality have co-evolved with pathogens. Determining who drove whom in this dark scenario is currently unclear. To understand this strange dynamic, consider people’s blatant inability to make statistically correct inferences about actual risk in the current epidemic of catastrophizing about COVID-19. The human propensity to ignore basic probability, and our mind’s fondness for attending to ‘salient’ information is well-documented. The negativity bias is one of the most potent of such pre-programmed mental heuristics: Any cue that contains information about potential dangers and threats will jump to mind easily, will be easier to remember, and easier to pass on. In the lingo of cultural epidemiologists, we describe danger cues as possessing “high learnability, memorability, and teachability” — or high feed-forward potential in epidemics of ideas. There is a clear evolutionary advantage to this trait: We are better off over-interpreting rather than under-interpreting danger. In most cases, these instant associations work well. Cues that signal the presence of pathogens tend to elicit automatic disgust responses, so as to help us avoid dangers. Over time, we’ve also evolved the ability to react instantly to a range of visual and auditory cues that convey a high likelihood of pathogen presence. This is why most of us are grossed out by the presence of mice, rats, or bugs, or by the sound of sniffling. But this mental heuristic is known to glitch in other ways. Racism and xenophobia, for example, also recruit pathogen-detection brain mechanisms. The language and metaphors we routinely use to justify moral outrage and our fear of the other also employ pathogen metaphors. We speak of undesirables as “vermin”; we are “grossed out” by offensive ideas; we worry about our girls being “soiled,” and our young people’s minds being “infected” by “sick” individuals and groups. Studies have shown that germaphobes and people who score higher in disgust sensitivity tend to be more ideologically and politically rigid. The plot thickens — or, more to the point, tightens — again. A growing consensus in the social sciences plots the historical rise of societies with ‘tighter’ social norms and more conservative cultures to the presence of pathogens in the environment. Western cultures tend to be ‘looser’ than non-Western ones for this reason — northern latitudes do not sustain as many pathogens as tropical zones — and they have become even looser since the advent of improved sanitation and antibiotics. Countries with higher historical pathogen prevalence are also associated with less gender equality and more rigid gender roles than those with cleaner environments.

But it gets weirder again. Deadly viruses like smallpox, the plague, measles, and influenza evolved in conditions of high population density between humans, animals, their detritus, and their excretions. More to the point, zoonotic (animal-borne, contagious to humans) diseases co-evolved under new selective pressures exerted on humans, plants, and animals as they domesticated one another in the Neolithic period, starting 12,000 years ago. By ‘domestication,’ I refer to the evolutionary strategy of species who selectively breed and reshape the life histories of other species for their own needs. Over a million years ago, following the domestication of fire, for example, our hominin ancestors were able to burn vast expanses of forest and savannah to reshape animal migration patterns for their hunting needs. Neolithic humans, to be sure, appear to have started the trend of selectively breeding plant species (millet, wheat, rice) and animal species (dogs, camels, pigs, goats, sheep, cows) for their nutritional, survival, and energy-conservation needs. As human and animal population density rose in the Neolithic, multiple waves of uninvited commensals like rats, mice, sparrows, pigeons — and, following those, fleas, lice, ticks, ants, flies, bees, and other insects joined in. Parasites, bacteria and viruses soon followed. Anthropologist James C. Scott refers to these radical niche transformations as “Late-Neolithic Multi-Species Relocation Settlement Camps.” Recall that evolution is a numbers game: At a population level, species seek to maximize their numbers by exploiting — and bending to their will — the vulnerabilities of other organisms in the niche. From Scott’s perspective, commenting on the backbreaking toil of humans who became tied to their ploughs in the course of a few centuries, it is unclear who domesticated whom in the Neolithic. Judging by the exponential spread and ‘success’ of such plant species as wheat, corn, rice, or marijuana, and the radical modes of restructuring of human activities and human bodies following their adoption as mono-crops, one might suggest, as Michael Pollan once did, that these plants colonized us. The abandonment of varied sources of proteins and fibre, as well as the flexible modes of livelihoods and environmental knowledge that sustained hunter-gatherer lifestyles gave rise, in record evolutionary time, to deep physiological changes and damages to the human body. By many accounts, the human species has yet to recover from the shock of the agricultural transition, which, for a while, led to lower statures, tooth decay, and lower bone density from malnutrition; a spike in auto-immune diseases; and increased mortality from new pathogens. On another cynical account — judging this time by the bending of human psychology, norms, social roles, moral codes, and patterns of migration and conflict — the new pathogens clearly won the numbers game. By this account, COVID-19 is turning out to be a remarkably intelligent evolutionary adversary. By exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology selectively bred by its pathogen ancestors, it has already shut down many of our schools, crashed our stock market, increased social conflict and xenophobia, reshuffled our migration patterns, and is working to contain us in homogenous spaces where it can keep spreading. We should pause to remark that COVID-19 is extraordinarily successful epidemiologically, precisely because it is not extremely lethal. With its mortality rate of 90%, for example, Ebola is a rather stupid virus: It kills its host — and itself — too quickly to spread far enough to reshape other species’ life-ways to cater to its needs.

The bad news for you is that, if you live in a densely populated area, you are very likely to contract the coronavirus — if not this year, next year, or the year after as it undergoes its seasonal global migration pattern with its zoonotic cousins.

The good news is that you will almost certainly not die from it, and it may not even register that you are slightly more sluggish than usual for a week or two. Much more relevant to the terrible threat caused by our Pathogen Overlords, you can prepare to fight the yearly Corona invasions to come by resisting your own neuroticism, your own prejudice, and your own irrationality. As far as numbers games are concerned, our Pathogen Overlords are much more noble, and much more worthy of our hatred than our fellow human pseudo-enemies in political, religious, and culture wars.

Questions

1. what actually defines common sense?
2. what defines the difference between sound judgement and common sense?
3. how is common sense making us stupid?
4. what drives irrationality? what are some factors that influence irrational thought?
5. what was the most irrational thing you did? what did you do to justify it?
6. what factor influences irrrationality the most?
7. why do people overreact to things