September 5, 2014

The Rational Human

 Brain PuzzleGod sleeps in the minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals, and thinks in man.      ~Arthur Young

Recently I asked a couple of questions on my Facebook page. “What if everything you believe is wrong? Can you even admit that possibility?”

What if we discovered tomorrow that foundational “truths” we hold to be dear were in fact false—what would we do? Would we deny the marshal of evidence before us? Would we attack the messenger delivering the news? Would we challenge with arguments of credibility, authenticity, verifiability, and so forth? Well the likelihood is very high that we would do all of the above and more. Why?

What does it take to change a fundamental and foundational belief? Let’s say for example, that you have come to reason that everything happens for some good reason, that it’s all a part of a big plan. You are right where you are supposed to be and perfectly on path, because everything is as it’s suppose to be. Now further, let’s just assume that you have used this belief rather axiomatically to justify, rationalize, and otherwise integrate all actions and activities arising in your personal life story. So you say to yourself something like, “If I had it to do over, I would do X instead, but then I wouldn’t have met my mate and made it to here, so I guess I did what I needed to do after all.”

Now think on this example for just a moment. Do you really believe that everything is planned and perfectly executed? Do you really believe that the atrocities perpetrated everyday by someone somewhere in this world are acts of some Divine plan? Do you really believe there are no such things as accidents? The parent who backs over their child in the driveway and cripples them for life planned all of this? Was there a grand plan in the sky that led to the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over Ukrainian air space?

What is rational? The dictionary will no doubt provide something like this as a definition, “based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings, having the ability to reason or think about things clearly.”

I know it feels good to fit all of the accidents, crime, disasters, calamities, catastrophes, cataclysms, misfortunes, mishaps, afflictions, adversities, tragedies, etc into a comfortable paradigm that persuades our psychology that all is well after all—but is this rational?

Let me share with you a thought I often have with myself. If everything is perfect just as it is today, then I have nothing to aspire to—no room for growth, no space to become more than what I have already manifest, and so forth. If instead, everything is perfectly in place for me to improve in every way I can, to enable the weak and poor, to protest the wrong, to contribute to the welfare and freedom of all, then I am ready for today! Which way of thinking is the most prevalent today, and which is the most empowering?

What happens when we examine everything we believe may just surprise us if we can do so honestly and free of bias. That is the real tough one. I have used but one example here of the many sorts of beliefs that we can all hold as foundational to our thoughts and behavior. The simple fact is, our enculturation has created a sort of template for our thinking. Recognizing this fact is but the first step we can take to free ourselves of patterns that deny the one thing that truly makes humans remarkable among all life forms—and that is our ability to think.

Choosing to be rational is not everyone’s favorite gig. I have often heard remarks such as ignore the brain and listen to your heart. I suppose we all must decide when to listen to what, but I like the words of Daniel Kahneman, “We think, each of us, that we’re much more rational than we are. And we think that we make our decisions because we have good reasons to make them. Even when it’s the other way around. We believe in the reasons, because we’ve already made the decision.”

Thanks for the read,