Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Irrational or Just Human?

A favorite theme these days when writing about the unconscious mind and decision making is about how bad we humans are at making decisions. A perfect example is Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.

Don't get me wrong... it's a great book, and I recommend that you read it BUT I take issue with one of the basic underlying and overt assumptions. The book explores human decision making, and describes (in an easy to read and entertaining way) some of the research on how people make decisions. I write in Neuro Web Design about all the myriad ways the unconscious mind guides, decides, affects the decisions we make. No disagreement there. But where we disagree is Ariely's assumption that if we would all pay attention to how irrationally we are making decisions then we would see the light and start to change. He is saying that we can overcome our innate tendencies to be irrational and instead choose to make rational choices.

He's missing the point. We aren't actually irrational. We're perfectly rational -- according to the UNconscious mind. It's an adaptive response (see Timothy Wilson's book Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unonscious). And we can't change. That's like saying that people should stop seeing color. We can't! It's just the way we're built. Our seemingly irrationality comes from the way the unconscious mind has learned to deal with the huge amounts of data that that logical conscious mind can't begin to process in a quick manner.

I say we accept and embrace the unconscious mind and celebrate what it does for us rather than judging us as irrational. It's not irrational. It's being human.

Creative commons photo:


Paul | said...

Thanks, Susan. I tend to agree - what is "irrational" to one person is "rational" to the other.

That we can predict so-called irrationality ("Predictably Irrational"), means that there's a rationality behind it!

Paul Hancox

P.S: Feel free to pop over to my blog and say Hello! :)

Linda said...

Wow, interesting!