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

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