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.
Just published a new piece in the Oxonian Review. It argues that a general problem with claimed demonstrations of irrationality is their reliance on standard economic models of rational belief and action, and illustrates the point by explaining some great work by Tom Kelly on the sunk cost fallacy and by Brian Hedden on hindsight bias.
Check out the full article here.
2400 words; 10 minute read.
I bet you’re underestimating yourself.
Humor me with a simple exercise. When I say so, close your eyes, turn around, and flicker them open for just a fraction of the second. Note the two most important objects you see, along with their relative positions.
I bet you succeeded. Why is that interesting? Because the “simple” exercise you just performed requires solving a maddeningly difficult computational problem. And the fact that you solved it bears on the question of how rational the human mind is.