Sai: You are not rational.

You are not rational. Many of us look at research on mental shortcuts (heuristics) and biases and think that maybe they explain how “those other people” are wrong, immoral, etc. To do so is to fundamentally misunderstand the science; “we” are not immune. (If anything, research on the “sophistication effect” shows that knowing more about bias makes us more vulnerable to confirmation biases).

Some biases, like the calibration effect, are ones we know how to overcome to some extent with explicit awareness and counter techniques. Others, such as hindsight bias, are ones we know cannot be overcome once you’re affected, but we can try to control our situations to prevent them. And in the case of moral failings, the Milgram experiments show that ‘evil’ actions aren’t just the province of psychopaths; normal people can become monsters (or heroes) due to the situation.

So rather than think of ourselves as supremely rational, moral actors — and the ‘enemy’ as evil and irrational — we have to think about how people interact with the world around them, and how we can really improve those situations. Because we’re the ones who are irrational.

Sai is a neuroscientist, an activist, a programmer, and the co-creator of CogSaiThis submission is in response to our blog party asking, What surprising thing have you learned about human nature?



  • Alanna

    Yup! Reminds me of stuff by Dan Ariely and David Eagleman.