I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately about neuroscience, neuropsychology and psychology and I have been thinking
Is being rational actually that
A topic I keep coming back to over and over again is the psychology of human reasoning and cognitive biases (in fact there is one podcasts where that is the only subject in psychology explores) and it seems like certain biases and irrational ways of thinking are practically universal to all people, that it takes a lot more constant discipline to actually be rational than most people seem to be aware of, even among those who are trained to be disciplined and rational.
But it seems like, there is a pretty good evolutionary explanation for many of these cognitive biases. Granted most of these can't be tested, as most evo psych hypotheses can't, but some of the reasoning seems logically valid. So that brings me back to that original question, is being rational really that important.
Take for example something like the optimism bias, that is the tendency for people to be irrationally selectively skeptical towards information that would disconfirm an optimisitc conclusion and uncritically accepting of confirmation of those same optimisitc conclusions. There is evidence to suggest that there is a biological predisposition towards optimism, possibly genetic or epigenetic, and an estimate that 80% of all people could be considered optimist most of the time. Why so high a figure? Perhaps it's because optimisitc beliefs motivate a greater degree of risk taking behavior, especially those needed to grow and thrive, the optimist keeps trying. It would suggest that the optimist is more likely to behave in a way that is strategically optimal in more situations than either the pessimist or the realist.
Or take the phenomena of "active information avoidance", the tendency for people to actively avoid a source of information that has the possiblity of being emotionally painful, like for instance someone not wanting to open a letter they got from a cancer screening center were they had an appointment. It can lead people to be somewhat willfully ignorant of absolutely necessary information, which can be disastrous, it can also be advantageous. Like for instance with investors who avoid looking at their portfolios on days when the stock market is bad, it might seem like it would be better for them to be informed, but if they do not checkPost too long. Click here to view the full text.