I’m in the midst of taking two online courses, Intro to Finance and Intro to Statistics and appreciate the tools and insights both disciplines bring to the decision making process. Paradoxically however, the more I’ve learned about thinking, the more problematic I find our deep-seated perception of humans as rational entities capable of making informed, consistent decisions.
Wikipedia, in a relatively short entry on the subject attempts to define rationality with the notion that “rational people should derive conclusions in a consistent way given the information at disposal.”
The problem is, we don’t typically make conclusions in a consistent way. Further, with more information readily available to us, evidence exists that we’re making worse decisions, not better ones. When you stop to think about it, it’s an unsettling notion given that rational decision making is the cornerstone of economics, democracy and a civil society. The Nobel-Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes:
“We don’t see very far in the future, we are very focused on one idea at a time, one problem at a time, and all these are incompatible with rationality as economic theory assumes it.”
So if we’re irrational beings living in a society based on rationality, are we doomed?
Possibly not. In David Brooks’ The Social Animal, the offers high praise for the British Enlightenment thinkers who eschewed the cool rationality and reductionist thinkers in the French Enlightenment in favor of a networked approach where “truth is found in the nature of the connections between the things you are studying. Context is critical.”
What I found particularly appealing about this approach lies in Brook’s paraphrasing of Alfred North Whitehead.
“During simpleminded periods, rationalist thinkers reduced human behavior to austere mathematical models. During muddleheaded eras, intuitive leaders and artists guide the way.”
I contend that we’re living in the midst of a muddleheaded period where uncertainty, fear and unpredictability rule our perceptions of the future. If, Alfred North Whitehead is correct, the creative class, artists, writers, creative thinkers and daring individuals need to define a collective vision for the future and offer both hope and a path forward into the future. We need this not simply in the world of art, but in politics, medicine, government and business, all areas that have been long associated with levelheaded rationality.
So what are you doing to build a better future? What irrational, creative steps can you take today to build a better tomorrow?