Rational thinking ain't what it used to be

Rational thinking will be unthinkable in 50 years.

I’m a huge Krista Tippet fan. She’s spent 20 years talking to great minds about what it is to be human. This is an unfortunately brief article but it synthesizes a lot of the science and sociology of our changing perception of how we arrive at the views we have of the world and what it might mean for justice, politics, economics and who knows what.

Better gear up for the AI generation. It is not that far off. A debate on this site could be just telling your computer to debate a subject for you. We have trolls, what will we call the AI users?

I dunno about that.

We are all on spectrums of the many aspects of our minds (empathy, rationality, self-control, and a thousand others.) Where each of us sits on these spectrums combines to make us each the individual we are. Those who sit on the ‘low’ end of the rationality spectrum are not increasing in numbers, they’re just increasing in political power and influence.

Our complicated history of western civilization has led us to the heights we’re at with the ignorant population we have (Carl Sagan has some good quotes about this). Although the less rational are currently using the media and democracy to halt or even reverse our progress, that doesn’t mean that in the future we won’t have rational leaders and a more rational society.

I have the optimistic opinion that, in time, greater and greater percentages of the population will be more and more rational (we really need our education system to get to work.)

Humanity will never be free of ego-maniacs, psychotics, greed, and those who simply have a personality that causes them to be dogmatic or close-minded. But those people will make up a smaller portion of the population. I doubt it will happen in the 50 years the article is talking about, but in 50 years we will be a bit closer to a more rational population, and rational thinking will be more common than it is now.

π: "I have the optimistic opinion that, in time, greater and greater percentages of the population will be more and more rational (we really need our education system to get to work.)"
But, that won't happen by itself. There needs to be a rational uprising, not of violence, but of lucid talking point aimed at Faith-blinded delusionals. Not to insult and ridicule but to educate and enlighten. Along with a demand to bring back good old American principles of FAIR PLAY. At least go at it with that sort of attitude, even if it seems like a hopeless exercise.

The reason its not a hopeless exercise is because you are also doing it to help education and motive your own people (rationalists, children of the intellectual enlightenment) as well.


I’m not making a case for irrationality. At this point we don’t quite have the terms for it, but it will be something that rational people today will probably recognize but it won’t be what we currently call “rational”. I’ll have to search some old notes on this, but it’s a mistake that was made back in the Enlightenment era. When we tried to dump irrational/supernatural thinking we left behind the pursuit of understanding how our emotions and physical sensations are part of our minds. We went from believing spiritual forces were causing us to think in certain ways to believing we could think our way out of any moral dilemma or mental state. Improvements in understanding how our mental health is related to chemical issues has slowly led us back to looking at our bodies as part of our minds, but we still have a long way to go. I’m not a neuroscientist, and we can’t all be neuroscientists, getting the culture to absorbs these new ideas can be the bigger challenge.

Here’s a more in depth and fun look at the philosophy, using Star Trek’s Spock as an example of bad use of rational thinking.

Accounting for our individual and collective emotions and desires and beliefs is the most rational thing to do.

I’d say Spock was illogical by ignoring the obvious ‘human’ factor that throws the best laid plans out the window the second they’re put into practice.

Rational leadership makes laws and rules that account for the inevitable craziness that comes when they’re implemented. Rational leadership doesn’t see the most rational path and try to force everyone down it- that would be very irrational.

Thus, we will continue to slowly advance, in spite of the temporary rise of the irrational we are experiencing.

Lausten, thanks for the vid.

The presenter has 2 definitions of rationality. 1) Epistemic- reality is what corresponds to actually existing events, things, etc. and 2) Instrumental- reality is whatever achieves your goals.

It is absolutely clear to me, that these CAN be completely oppositional definitions. Definition 2, Instrumental - would include goals achieved by establishing fictional narratives that motivate social groups to act in ways so as to actualize those goals.

Fiction is NOT epistemic rationality.

I think that we tend to think of rationality as the epistemic version. However, when fictional narratives are the most successful in achieving goals, epistemic rationality is trumped. This is a part of our evolutionary heritage.


Nice little article. It’s very true human nature is what it is yet we keep forgetting that —some of us at least.

Nothing much will change though as we are not that rational but rationalizing and that is what works, as a TimB touches on.

Well, another gift of our evolutionary heritage is that we can learn things, in our lifetimes, that can over-rule or replace some evolutionary tendencies. So I don’t think that we are all doomed to rationalize thru fictions, at least not all the time.

When we choose the narratives that we base our belief on, I think it is important to determine which are the most grounded in epistemic rationality. Then I think it is fair to add emotional justifications and outcome justifications to make those narratives more palatable than the competing narratives that are less grounded in reality.

Rational thinking is sometimes unthinkable today. For example, let take communism vs. democratic systems of government. Still being debated and we are moving towards the first steps with socialism today. Yet rational thinking was done by Plato over Socrates ideas of communism over 1,300 years ago that communism was not the system to use. What Krista Tippet implies is that we can think rationally today. And when I look at what is going on against our President. I know that is not the case.

Then we have the philosophy instructor involved in four universities who wrote the 2016 book, “Reason and Counterpoint,” as offering “ambitious and highly creative answers to some of the most vexing philosophical questions.” And has been working on another book project described as “a witty dialogue on arguments for and against the existence of God.” And he was arrested for taking cans of gas and lighter fluid into St. Patrick’s church this week.

Point being. Being a word smith is a great skill. Being able to use mind changing talking points can make attorneys famous. And rational thinking can sometime go against what is believed to be correct scientific and public beliefs. The most rational thinking problems can most of the time be broken down to the root of the issues and be simply solved. But seldom are.