“man is not a rational animal…

…he is a rationalizing animal.” [source]

ed yong wrote about some neat self-deception research the other day (People don’t know when they’re lying to themselves.)

in his post, he highlighted a couple of high-profile (probable) self-deceivers, gaddafi and sheen, as examples of self-deceivers. which seems to illustrate that ed missed the point entirely: we’re aaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllll self-deceving self-deceivers! if not 24/7, then pretty d*mn close to it.

we’re rationalizers.

take religious belief, for example. if you ask them, most believers will tell you their reasons for believing. and most non-believers will tell you their reasons for not believing.

but religious belief is heritable! there’s probably very little rational thinking involved in “deciding” to be religious or not! the “reasons” given by these two groups are just after-the-fact rationalizations — people trying to explain to themselves, and others, why the h*ck they believe or not. the reasons might feel really real, but that’s the beauty of self-deception.

i remember when i became a non-believer (i’m an agnostic). it suddenly just dawned on me one day when i was a young teenager that we can’t possibly know for sure if there’s a god or not. i wasn’t thinking about the question. i hadn’t even been pondering about the issue beforehand. it just came to me — an epiphany. (or, a reverse epiphany, i guess.) there was no reasoning involved. it just sorta happened.

looking back on it now, i can see that my “moment of clarity” prolly had something to do with how my brain was developing at a time. it was on a trajectory that was, no doubt, mostly outlined by my genes. i grew up in an affluent western world, so most environmental factors, like poor nutrition, can be ruled out as having had any strong influence on my development. my genes were probably allowed to express themselves to their fullest, agnotic little selves. i even grew up in a typical religious household! not overly religious, but the family attended regular sunday services.

but, there was just something in my genome that made me think: hmmmmmm? (my a-religious tendencies come, i think, from one of my grandfathers who, reportedly, wasn’t much of a church-goer. he died when i was very small, so he couldn’t have been much influence on me.)

so, i never give anyone a reason for why i’m agnostic. when they ask why, i tell them that i just am. sometimes i throw in that my genes made me this way. (~_^)

humans are not rational creatures. far from it! a few of us try real hard to be, and on occasion maybe we sometimes succeed. most of the time we don’t. ’cause it ain’t easy to overcome nature!

a helluva lot (most?) of the reasons we consciously give to explain our actions do not reflect the reality of the situation. that is why reductionism works: all of the “causes and ideals” that people say they have are not truly explanatory, but merely after-the-fact rationalizations.

previously: “know thyself” and word iv

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