On November 16, the Oxford Dictionary announced it had chosen “post-truth” as the 2016 Word of the Year. After Brexit, the recent US election and the increasingly isolated and polarized nature of online communities where fake news stories get equal play or better than the real ones (see: Buzzfeed Facebook Probe), the choice seems entirely appropriate. This forum has posted 13 articles on the difficulty of knowing what is true and an extended series on the challenges of being rational. So perhaps being “post-truth” is no big deal? Nothing could be further from the truth! We ignore true facts of our experience, our science, and our spiritual teachings at our peril. The fate of the world, and the fate of our souls, hangs in the balance.
Imagine 100 monkeys typing (presumably randomly) on 100 typewriters for a limitless period of time: Eventually, hidden somewhere in the seemingly endless streams of nonsense, they would produce all of the works of Shakespeare. This popular thought experiment has been around for more than a century (longer than typewriters!) and demonstrates interesting features of both randomness and infinity. It is a useful starting point for discussing unique problems now being encountered with large data sets.
In our series on rationality, we have attempted to understand our cognitive limitations and to improve our effectiveness in being rational, but we have not discussed what it means to be irrational. Lisa Bortolotti has written an excellent little book, Irrationality (2015), that does exactly that. Bortolotti, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, reviews the current thinking in philosophy and psychology about when and how humans are not rational, and offers some notable conclusions that add significantly to our understanding. (more…)
Nautilus magazine this month has provided another well-documented summary of the pitfalls to being rational, providing further confirmation of our discussion On Rationality last fall. Richard Nesbitt, in The Bugs in our Mindware, provides a good overview and some detailed examples of where the human mind can go wrong. (more…)
The exploration of rationality (see: Journal) has led us into a number of difficulties. Our logic is flawed, our biases inescapable, and the foundations for our evidence have crumbled. Even the world we live in is not rational. So, it’s time to extract ourselves from the quagmire by elevating our focus to a few “meta” principles. Rationality is an ideal that can never be fully realized. Yet the goal of being rational is integral to who we are as human beings and to the notion of consciousness itself. Rather than drifting in the sea of experience, it is rationality that provides both anchor and sail. (more…)
Our simple exploration of the concept of rationality has so far dealt primarily with the last two parts of the three part model for rationality: choosing the optimal outcome and reasoning logically. In neither case have we found clarity. Choice requires valuation, which engages our emotional faculties – and emotions are notoriously difficult to integrate with conscious thought, as so much remains hidden. And while reasoning logically and consistently may be feasible, the complete truth will never be accessible – and the universe itself does not appear to be consistent. (more…)
In our discussion of rationality, we began (September 15) by reviewing the three elements of rational decision making: reliance on evidence, focus on desired outcomes and logical reasoning. The following week (September 22) we questioned whether the universe was rational (it does not seem to be). Last week (October 1) we looked at emotions and concluded that they are integral to rationality, both as evidence and more importantly as the guide by which we weigh and choose among desired outcomes. Our consideration of emotions was, however, incomplete. (more…)
In the first post on rationality (September 15, 2014), I mentioned the controversy over whether emotions, among other things, could be part of being rational. This statement deserves further explanation. We can start with a discussion of the role of emotions in each of the three parts of our model for rational decision-making: evidence – outcomes – reasoning.
Last week (September 15, 2014) we established a framework for being “rational”, and talked about the importance of consistency. To be rational, we need to avoid inconsistences and contradictions. At the same time, we expect that being rational provides the confidence that we can reach the complete truth. But at the frontiers of knowledge in mathematics and physics, things do not appear to meet the criteria of consistency and completeness. The universe may not be rational.
This would seem to be an easy question. We all agree human beings can be, and should be, rational. But language and discourse about human thought is notoriously slippery. What being rational means has confounded philosophers for thousands of years. 
A Personal Journal – towards a Philosophy Integrating Science and Spirituality
It is 2014 and we are well into the fifth year of the 21st century of the modern era, approximately 2 million years after humans first appeared on the earth. Today, the world is changing in ways we cannot imagine, at a speed we cannot perceive and with an intensity we cannot withstand. We are precipitating these changes through our choices and their interaction with the choices of all 8 billion humans and the natural world as a whole, in a complex web of complex systems defying prediction or control.
All the same, the fundamental questions of who we are, why we are here and how we should live have not changed. The earliest known philosophers struggled with these questions, just as philosophers do today, while most of the human species continues striving to live the best life they can envision. (more…)