Monday, April 1, 2013

Faking rationality: yet another Rationalizing Animal post

I said yesterday I was done with this, but I'm a rationalizing animal, too, so I'm happily inconsistent.

Also, I realized I had lied to myself. Accepting that humans are irrational animals did not make me happy. It made me quite depressed for about 48 hours, so I'm going to go back to being irrationally optimistic about my irrational species. I intend to cling desperately to the notion that we can fake being rational sometimes, and someday, we'll be able to fake it often enough to make a better world.

There are worse ways to fake it than considering these quotes from Was Shakespeare Shakespeare? 11 Rules for Critical Thinking:

  1. All beliefs in whatever realm are theories at some level. (Stephen Schneider)
  2. Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. (Dandemis)
  3. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. (Francis Bacon)
  4. Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)
  5. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  6. A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)
  7. The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that is most interesting. (Richard Feynman)
  8. To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. (Charles Darwin)
  9. It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)
  10. Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong. (Thomas Jefferson)
  11. All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
My favorites are Feynman's, Darwin's, and Twain's. Crick's is important, but irrational animals always wave away the things their beloved theory does not explain.



  1. Here's a link to a video of Feynman saying that:

    Good stuff.

  2. Something I think is key that doesn't really get highlighted in that rundown is that you need to be willing to ask the question "is the appeal that this idea has for me self-serving?" and listen to the answer.

    Untangling the mess that self-interest makes of reasoning is probably not remotely possible, but given how loathsome the results are when people don't even bother to ask the question, it must be worth making an effort.

    1. Excellent point. Upton Sinclair stated the reverse: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

      Hmm. Maybe I'll go looking for useful additions and substitutions for this list.