When worlds collide | Rationality vs Irrationality

When I’m writing and looking for the best way of explaining personal development concepts to my readers—I’m very conscious of the fact that you’re all situated in various different environments from all across this planet, each of whom, face unique challenges daily that differ from my own. This means that my advice needs to be epistemically valid, in order to provide value for my readers, or else I’m aware that I’m really just providing you with my own antidotal successes in life that may fall short when the crux of my guidance is attempted elsewhere.

Now that’s fine if you happened to be interested in a particular person you greatly admired for their noteworthy successes in life—But I pride myself on this platform’s ability to offer universally applicable frameworks for personal development and that is where I hope to earn your trust—Thus, antidotal successes leave a lot to be desired for me. What works in my life, most certainly won’t work for you if I haven’t factored in the possible variables in-play beyond my own sensory observations.

To assist me with this endeavour, one of my favourite hobbies is to explore the realms of philosophy and the greater rational landscape it resides within to see if my ideas can hold up to intellectual scrutiny if hard pressed. The rational world has destroyed much of what I once held dear, sharpened my beliefs for the better and taught me countless new thinking models that have enhanced my world view with greater accuracy.


The Dark Overlap

However, from this process of harnessing my critical thinking, an unexpected problem surfaced as I began to filter my thinking through my newly acquired mental tools. I was hit by the realisation that my rationalised frameworks often held zero pragmatic value within old environments I was once familiar with that still adhered to the rules of the irrational world. Countless areas of our society pays no heed to rational accountability. For example; when discussing politics with peers—how does one point out a logical fallacy to someone who lacks knowledge in logic 101? Especially when emotions and fierce alliances are involved? One might as well be talking in Elvish.

I was now navigating between the overlapping worlds of rationality and irrationality on a daily basis and rather unsure of quite what to make of it. Much of my reality still involves the irrational—that is certain with mindful observation. So the questions beckoned: Was the irrational world, my new enemy? Did the rational world provide me with all the tools needed to traverse the challenges of my life?  These were the pressing questions that needed answers.

The first stop on this journey of mine began in the fascinating realms of psychology—where I began researching the human mind and its common perceptual failures. Some of you would have witnessed my findings expressed via the Cognitive Bias Field Manual and my introductory piece on Cognitive Dissonance.

To justify a potential war with the irrational world, I needed to understand the essence of why a person becomes irrational in this game to begin with. As a frequent victim to irrationality, I had my suspicions—but no finer place seemed more suitable to begin this questioning of mine than the exploration of cognitive bias—those mental shortcuts that have served our ancestors admirably for countless millennia, that often leads one to form irrational outcomes.

Triumph of the Virtues. Painting by Andrea Mantegna, 1502.

I began to look at the habits/patterns in our thinking that leads us to conclude the wrong things from time to time. Intrinsic shortcomings—unconscious and unavoidable. Within a universe comprised of limitless information that continuously provides trials of chaos that directly threatens the survival of man—our biological systems have had to form pragmatic shortcuts that can achieve tangible victories for the betterment of our well-being. Organic protocols that have proven their worth through endless struggle and triumph—only to find the premise of such actions defying logical sense when subject to heavy scrutiny. What a privilege it is, to be living at the bow of the human saga and analyse human behaviour in this way, now that the hardships of nature have been pressed out beyond our metropolitan territories. This is the way it’s had to play out—survival first, truth-seeking and scientific understanding second. As mankind’s story goes, science is not a prerequisite to survival (The human story over millions of years is a testament to that) but one must survive to do science.

So as it goes, an overlap between the irrational world and the logical world was inevitable. And we’re the living participants within its shadow.

So let’s take a deeper look at the irrational thinking process. Where can it be found exactly? What enables it to still be present?

1) People fail to realise the irrationality of their actions and believe they are acting perfectly rationally, possibly due to flaws in their reasoning.

Guilty. This one hits home—I was at fault and oblivious of this behaviour for the longest time before I began to subject my viewpoints to intellectual scrutiny. No one is intrinsically rationally sound. One must learn the mental models that have been crafted throughout history to great time and sacrifice that have proven to be the most valid in forming accurate outcomes. How could one be rightly sceptical about a poorly conducted opinion poll if he lacks a basic understanding of statistics? He can’t. Such is the limitation of one’s capability when lacking fundamental knowledge.

2) People’s actual interests differ from what they believe to be their interests.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Words are cheap. It’s very easy for certain people to proclaim a position in this game only for it to turn out to be utter nonsense when one must back it up at a later date. For example, how easy is it to form a stance on matters that currently involve little to any risk to you?—This is what I would have done in that street fight—This is what I would have done if I was in power. This is common behaviour from those who lack self-awareness—choosing to neglect important variables that would surely affect the outcome.

One can only truly “believe” in something that can be expressed through what one is willing to risk for it.

If you don’t believe this, you’re naive. Failure to understand this concept will lead to inevitable hypocrisy and surprise if and when the variables change.

This phenomenon is well known within psychology; for experiments, researchers will often introduce money into their parameters to observe how their test subjects will formulate choices when they hold tangible risks—a far more accurate representation of man’s ‘beliefs’ than choosing to depend on a person’s word, when there are zero risks in-play.

3) Situations are outside of one’s ordinary circumstances, where one may experience intense levels of fear or may regress to a fight-or-flight mentality.

I’m assuming that most of my readers are fortunate enough to live in a relatively peaceful environment—where matters of survival and intense violence become a distant afterthought. One can easily proclaim a stance of pacifism and extreme liberalism when one is afforded the privileged circumstances to do so. But if the game suddenly decides to pick you as one of those statistical inconceivable victims to extreme violence—would your position hold? Will your passive viewpoints swing into hysteric hypocrisy when subjected to chaos?

As discussed earlier; One can only truly ‘believe’ in something that can be expressed through what one is willing to risk for it. Thus, irrational behaviour is often revealed by those who failed to understand the more extreme mechanics of this game and factor that into their behaviour.

4) Irrational decisions are actually optimal but made unconsciously on the basis of “hidden” interests that are not known to the conscious mind.

This phenomenon can probably be best explained by walking down a city street, alone at night. Imagine it’s 3:30 am in the morning and you’re walking home. The distant sound of a dog’s bark offers the only soundtrack to the cold, lonely environment you find yourself in.

On cue, the steps of a human can be heard from behind you—a quick glance over the shoulder reveals a hooded dark male of a sound build, approximately 10m behind you, looking directly at you. Suddenly, one’s paranoia elevates ever so slightly as you begin to get a bad feeling about this. You look back ahead, hoping to conceal your heightened awareness—you begin to rationalise the situation: There is nothing to fear, chill out. How often do people get mugged on this street? Am I stereotyping this person for no reason? I don’t want this guy to think I’m being a dick, I’m not going to cross the street or else it’ll look suspicious…

This is a common tactic of using rational oversight to misrepresent your in-the-moment knowledge about the current situation at hand and distorting the situation for what it actually is. And that’s bad. Because it will cost you if you’re never allowing your instinct to weigh in on a situation that it’s most effective at handling. It’s the methodical thinking system that must take a secondary role in such heightened circumstances.

Survival cares not for statistics. Every victim that has ever suffered from the hand of an external threat probably has a thing or two to tell you about the utility of statistics—or not if they’re no longer fortunate enough to be playing this game of course. Stats and methodical thinking are better served for pondering over the past and the future. Instinct and real-time processing is for overcoming the conflicts of the present moment. Our automated, default thinking processing has been forged throughout the saga of evolution, refined throughout millennia to deal with matters of the present moment without drifting into methodical thought.

Thus, there is no one better to lead this situation than your intuition—your primal thinking system has been refined throughout the ages to deal with scenarios exactly like this with formidable effectiveness. One will find gut instinct, stereotypes and mindful sensory awareness far more effective at keeping you safe in such circumstances as opposed to simulating the outcome via rational thinking and hoping your prophecy comes true.

(5) Some people find themselves in this condition by living “double” lives. They try to put on one “mask” for one group of people and another for a different group of people. Many will become confused as to which they really are or which they wish to become.

The famous position of the social diplomat. One who chooses to keep the peace with all his peers no matter what. His words shape shift as far as it keeps everyone around him happy. This thoughtless irrational behaviour will inevitably bring countless social benefits to the most cunning and socially skilled characters—however, should our character be pressed on his hypocrisy—the mask will be revealed. Social conventions don’t typically adhere to any major consequences for such deception. Would you suddenly disown your friend if you found that he stood for nothing, and merely prioritised friendship and healthy social dynamics over logical consistency? I thought not… And that is why this position is a favoured tactic amongst many characters in this game.

(6) Continuing the concept of the “mask”—rationality is a hinderance to those who have always depended on the chaos of irrationality to achieve their goals in life.

There are countless people in this game who are compelled neither by logical reasoning nor an introspective desire to comprehend their own irrationalism. This type of individual will simply do what must be done in order to achieve personal satisfaction. Their logic is inherently contingent upon their emotional state of the moment and the social context of the situation. Such characters have refined their tactics over time from what has proven to be the most pragmatically productive for them.

The Elephant in the room: Religion

I believe there is no finer culprit of irrational thinking than the believer of dogma. Nothing defies logic more proudly than the flag bearers of faith. But beneath the surface of this enduring human desire to explain the purpose of life itself, lies a fundamental framework that has offered untold survival tools to countless population groups around the world.

Religious behaviour is almost always irrational to external observers who choose to filter devout conduct through their frameworks of rationality. For example; The Jewish Kashrut prescribes it’s followers to keep four sets of dishes and two sinks—the purpose of such, is to avoid mixing meat with dairy products. Meat in one sink, dairy in the other. What’s rationally sound about having two sinks?

However objectively relevant this sacred ‘rule’ is when it’s assessed through the narrative of a deity’s command is seemingly irrelevant—the Kashrut survived approximately three millennia because the people who adhered to it survived. It clearly tapped into some ‘universal concept’ of health that nature rewarded to its practitioners. Furthermore, these rules led to increased social cohesion: Eating together = sharing stories together, laughing together, forming solutions with each other etc. Social cohesion led to trust, trade and increased social collaboration. One can clearly see the power of religion and the countless survival benefits on offer to the population groups who choose to follow them. Irrespective of its cosmological accuracy.

It’s not too difficult then, to conceptualise how the rules of scripture can lead to increased social collaboration and exponential social rewards when large population groups adhere to the same rulebook.

The irrational landscape of spirituality

But the issue becomes abundantly problematic to anyone paying attention when one holds man’s track record of explaining the gods accountable. The choice of religions worldwide currently reaches in excess of 4000+ different teams/theories to choose from—that’s not even including the countless gods that have been conquered by conflicting dogmas throughout history. (Norse gods, Roman gods, Greek Gods etc.) When a character in this game subscribes to a certain religious team/theory, they too also, have seemingly dismissed thousands of versions of a god in order to land on their version—but we know that isn’t even the case most of the time. Geographic randomness determines one’s spiritual team in this game—and that is enough for the majority of people to fall into their local spiritual ranks without a second thought. One needn’t even take an introspective glance at this predetermined arrangement—faith permits such a stance.

When discussing religion, one inevitably must traverse an illogical landscape. It is only on the shoulders of giants that I’m even empowered to take such a position. Religion has unquestionably been the framework that has enabled civilisation after civilisation to band together, form effective moral guidelines that have enabled stable nation-building that has allowed us to thrive in our communities.

But this chronicle no longer holds up for me. While its pragmatic effects are clear, the holy narrative is no longer compatible for the landscape ahead of us. Human cooperation will continue to be the major driving force that aids the progression of mankind’s journey in this hostile world and that demands universally sound models of thinking that are epistemically sound and verifiable by all parties.

The transgressions of dogma are truly hard to stomach—people are killed around the world each and every day due to the conflicting accounts of deities that have no rational basis to assume. Nevertheless, this collision between the rational and irrational world is a relatively new phenomenon in the human story—one must accept the reality of the situation. We just happen to be present during the chapter of the human saga where the irrational man and the rational man must coexist at the same time.

It’s ok to admit we don’t know what is going on out there—science certainly doesn’t offer all the answers to this grand saga so far. But if one cares for truth, one can only place their passion into the enterprise that is actually gazing into the darkness of the unknown in mankind’s grand endeavour to explain it all. It’s the only game in town as far as I am concerned. The only initiative that encourages the discussion of its inaccuracy and failures. The only undertaking that seeks the answers of the cosmos via an open source architecture that is verifiable to all players.

A man in India will claim with 100% certainty that he has connected with Krishna—Meanwhile a man in Mexico would tell you he has connected with Jesus with the same confidence. Both will explain their experiences through their respective frameworks of scripture to rationalise their abstract occurrences.

Choosing to focus on objective truths becomes more tangible and diplomatic. It’s a game that all humans can play, irrespective of their origins. No such discrepancy would be possible in matters of the hydrogen bomb for example. For if one invokes the appropriate procedures via the correct mathematical formulas, one will experience the same bang in India as it would be witnessed in Mexico. [Richard Dawkins]It works… Bitches.[/Richard Dawkins]

However, one mustn’t be so quick to overlook the western world’s reliance on religion as its moral compass and the process of dismantling religious kinship. These are serious issues that must be handled with great care when we’re looking to discuss the moral landscape ahead, sans religion—or else suffer the untold consequences of our negligence.

Moving forward from here

In this article, I’ve touched upon some of the collisions between rational and irrational thinking processes that have been on my mind lately. There are countless more levels to this hypothesis of mine—But I felt this was an appropriate place to begin and wrap up respectively, or else I would fear this rambling would turn into a book. I hope that these ponderings have offered you some interesting food for thought atleast—with that, I leave you with my closing thoughts.

What society in the human story so far has ever suffered because its people became too rational? Rationality can always justify and incorporate irrational behaviour into its thinking models if it has proven its utilitarian worth. Irrational thinking on the other hand, unfortunately, seems to lack such a dual-compatibility feature in its software. That should be more than enough reason for anyone to begin hedging their bets into rational frameworks.

We will only begin to see the passing of defective concepts of thinking when there becomes tangible risks when acting upon them. For example, those who partake in horoscopes and palm reading are reaching out into the world with their limited understanding to simply better understand their place in this game—with little to any social consequence to its application and encouragement. Meanwhile, there is a vicious marketplace that is more than happy to take the money from those who seek such services—feeding the way of ignorance. Intellectual scrutiny is obviously barred from such pseudo domains as it easily reveals the fiction behind such enterprises. Thus, the marketplace preys upon patrons who have yet to filter their world views through such intellectual scrutiny—enabling a profitable ecosystem for those who cultivate the landscape of ignorance. I believe these are the first frontiers that must be conquered within the overlapping battlespace of rational and irrational thinking.

We’re all living in the inevitable crossover between the irrational and the cognitive progression of our species—riding the momentum of the potential to see the world through ferociously accurate models of thinking. The overlap I’ve discussed today can certainly be daunting to anyone privileged enough to have found a temporary refuge of beneficial order within the chaos of life, only to witness their fellow man disregard the principles that support it without a second thought. But hope must not be lost, as this process was inevitable to mankind’s story if you truly think about it. Irrationality will have its day—piece by piece, its concepts will be replaced by logical frameworks that allow for better collaboration and the removal of unnecessary suffering.

But that day lies beyond our horizon.

We must be respectful that many irrational acts of today, still hold utilitarian purpose in countless domains, with no rational counterpart offering a solution in the meantime.

One can only act with virtue, and uphold intellectual scrutiny within their respective territories—holding friends, family and peers accountable for illogical habits should they so happen to reveal themselves.

Our civilisation will owe you a great debt for it.