Irrational opinions

Irrational-ArtWe have established now that irrationality is a human condition.  This does not mean that it should be accepted.  It is the same as stupidity.  Maybe we should also define the opposite of irrationality.  What is rationality?   According to Philip Johnson-Laird and Ruth M.J. Byrne humans are rational in principle but they err in practice.  Thus our tendency towards the irrational.  Now it is actually quite understandable that we might for various motivational reasons prefer the irrational behaviour.  Who am I to say that a chain smoker has not weighed the consequences of his behaviour and came to the conclusion that the pleasure of smoke filled lungs outweighs the risk of a painful suffocating death.  This would be considered rational behaviour, albeit an extreme example.  My biggest problem with irrationality is not the behaviour as such, but the sources from which we draw the information to make those choices.

The chain smoker cannot really come to the wrong conclusions if he wants to make a decision because the facts about smoking are quite well established, and his decision would be an informed one with only a rudimentary Google search.  Unfortunately many of our day to day behaviours are informed by advertising, and not science. We feed kids fruitloops because the box says that there are 9 vitamin and iron in it.  It is also made by a company we trust to make breakfast, and it’s advertised as good.  We do not questions this.  Why?  Because we trust in a broken system.  We believe if it was bad for us the government, or ‘researchers’ or someone who knows more or better than ourselves would have done something about it.  Well, we are wrong. We eat Nutella for breakfast because they say that it has healthy hazel nuts in it, and is good for breakfast.  Really?  Nutella is just spreadable chocolate.  See this video for a good laugh: YouTube link

Unfortunately we do this on a deeper level too, with bigger, more important things. Here we receive our information not from advertising, but from sources we think are authorities.  We tend to spend only about 10 minutes (not a scientific figure) initially weighing the authority of a source, and thereafter we automatically defer judgement to that authority. (Yes, there are actual communication theories to explain some of these phenomena, like the two-step, magic bullet, etc.)  A good example is the church, priest and Bible.  Most people probably spent less than 10 minutes evaluating the rationality, authenticity, and ‘truth’ of their church, priest or Bible, yet on all and any subject they are happy to defer their opinion to whatever the church say, because that’s what the Bible says.  We outsource our opinions to opinion leaders.  We spend little time verifying our source’s credibility (CNN, financial adviser, the Bible), and thereafter we fly blind.  Anything and everything coming to us from those sources adds to our existing opinion.  We generally do not question it. We buy a house instead of renting, because ‘they’ say it is the best thing to do.  We study, get married, have 2.5 kids, work for 50 years, retire and die, because that is what ‘they’ said we should do.  Well, it is irrational and that kind of thinking needs to stop, because irrationality is stupidity.

Ashamed of my irrationality

Ashamed head-in-handsSo after some personal reflection and constructive conversation with a friend, I came to the conclusion that I’m a hypocrite.  I actually struggled to fall asleep the other night because I realised that there are such gaping flaws in the way I think I act and the way I actually act.  My previous post was on the logic of being a vegetarian.  I may look harshly on someone who denies the facts of the benefits to self and society of a veggie diet, just like I judge someone who smokes, for various reasons.  But there are other similar things in my life which I don’t do, but know I should, or visa versa.  Which means I am a hypocrite.  I also know that the reason we do these things is quite simple.  We engage in ‘risky’ behaviour because we do not see the immediate consequences of those behaviours.  Or we do not do positive behaviours because the consequences are not immediately visible.  I have been trying for the past 8 years to lose weight.  I am still not 1kg closer to my goal, even though I have tried, and tried, and tried.  What’s my problem?  Whatever exercise I do today will have zero visible effect.  Denying myself that chocolate is not going to make me lighter on the scale tomorrow.  It is exactly the same reasoning as someone saying that the steak on his plate is not going to kill him, or have any effect on saving the planet.  It seems there is work to be done.