The Biology of Irrationality

In my previous post, I discussed my introduction to the science behind the rationality problems all humans suffer from. I later found another book, this one called Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend, that introduced me to the biology behind our emotional – and sometimes irrational — thinking.

This time, I’m going to mostly just go with quotes from the book, as they say it all:

The Limbic System’s Role in “Emotional Thinking”

The role of emotion in shaping “rational” thinking is tremendously underrated. Strong evidence shows that human behavior is the product of both the rational deliberation that takes place in the front areas of the cerebral cortex and the “emote control” — emotional reasoning – that originates in the limbic system. …As Princeton sociologist Douglass Massey writes: ‘Emotionality clearly preceded rationality in evolutionary sequence, and as rationality developed it did not replace emotionality as a basis for human interaction. Rather, rational abilities were gradually added to preexisting and simultaneously developing emotional capacities….’

Human behavior…is not under the sole control of either affect or deliberation but results from the interaction of these two qualitatively different processes… Emote control is fast but is largely limited to operating according to evolved patterns. Deliberation is far more flexible… but is comparatively slow and laborious.  (p. 187) Continue reading

History as Narrative Fallacy aka What Type of Apologist Are You?

Another reprint from Mormon Matters. I confess I’ve partially changed my mind on one small part of this, namely the use of the word “defective” when refering to our minds. More on that at a later date. But it still gets the point across.

History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what’s inside the box, how the mechanisms work. …the minds of the gods cannot be read just by witnessing their deeds. You are very likely to be fooled about their intentions. (The Black Swan, P. 8 )

In a previous post I discussed the realities of The Black Swan, those improbable events that rule our lives but we pretend don’t and can’t happen. I also discussed how in actuality “randomness” is really just incomplete information. And finally I discussed how we feel the need to reverse engineer explanation for historical events — even though it’s impossible — and how, once we do, we have a really hard time realizing that there is more than one viable explanation for the same event. [1]

Which brings me to how this all directly relates to the LDS Church and specifically to the intolerance we show each other on the Bloggernacle at times. It is all directly related to two facts:

  1. History is a collection of facts demanding interpretation before we can process them.
  2. Thus all history is mostly narrative fallacy.

This means that two people can and will interpret it differently and both will have been fooled by their brains to believe that theirs is the one best way to explain those facts and only an idiot or liar would think otherwise. Continue reading

What is a Black Swan? A Book Review

Another reprint from Mormon Matters. I’m sticking with the ‘what is history?’ theme here.

In my last post I talked about how God helped me develop a more realistic, though uncomfortable, world view that excluded faith in myself. As it turns out, there is scientific backing for this view. The first book that introduced me to that science is called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (from here on I’ll abbreviate NNT).  

The book’s name comes from the idea that the human brain is not wired to deal with improbable events so we simply discount their possibility:

Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. [i.e. no one had ever seen a Black Swan to that date] …[this story] illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single… black bird. (p. xvii)

More to the point: “Black Swan logic makes what you don’t know far more relevant than what you do know.” (p. xix) Continue reading