This is a guest post from Jake Quilty-Dunn (Oxford / Washington University), who has an interestingly different take on the question of rationality than I do. This post is based on a larger project; check out the full paper here.
(2500 words; 12 minute read.)
Is it really possible that people tend to be rational?
On the one hand, Kevin and others who favor “rational analysis” (including Anderson, Marr, and leading figures in the recent surge of Bayesian cognitive science) have made the theoretical point that the mind evolved to solve problems. Looking at how well it solves those problems—in perception, motor control, language acquisition, sentence parsing, and elsewhere—it’s hard not to be impressed. You might then extrapolate to the acquisition and updating of beliefs and suppose those processes ought to be optimal as well.
On the other hand, many of us would like simply to point to our experience with other human beings (and, in moments of brutal honesty, with ourselves). That experience seems on its face to reveal a litany of biases and irrational reactions to circumstances, generating not only petty personal problems but even larger social ills.
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