Author Topic: The Importance of Irrationality  (Read 945 times)

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Offline Strawman

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The Importance of Irrationality
« on: September 28, 2012, 12:40:16 PM »
The Importance of Irrationality

Fear is a powerful emotion. It inspires cruelty, hatred and irrational belief. But it also plays a vital role in our survival as a species.
Throughout our evolution up to this point, fear made us run from the rustling bush that may or may not have concealed a predator, made us build high walls and develop great machines of war and industry to surpass our enemies and keep them at bay. It fuelled conquest that brought great wealth and prosperity, and justified the resultant suffering.
But fear and paranoia are merely the visible symptoms that surface from a deeper irrationality. The fear of death is entirely irrational. What reason is there for life, for any life, not just our own? No rational one. For what reason do we eat, breathe and propagate? No rational one. If it were not for our irrationality we would be extinct. No purely rational being has any interest in prolonging its own existence.

Despite being irrational, superstitious fools, our capable nature allowed something very interesting to occur. Fear had driven us to create security for ourselves and our offspring. This safety afforded us the ability to remain children for longer and grow larger brains. Inside these evolving brains lay a new mind, the protected mind, one which was governed not by fear but reason and gave birth to rationalism and science. We still require our irrational mind to this day, in order to survive, so we should not discard irrationality entirely but use both minds in tandem. We have to be brave enough to assume safety in order to employ our rational minds, but being completely rational would put us in danger. We remain mortal objects and any contrary illusion would prove fatal. (I'm not suggesting that believing yourself to be immortal is rational, but rather that a mortal creature whom behaves exclusively rationally is doomed.) But this doesn't exclude us from employing rationality in our daily lives; such is the nuance of the human mind.

And so our rationality is forever restricted by our mortality. Human logic and reasoning will forever be the artist's tools. But is that such a terrible thing?
« Last Edit: September 28, 2012, 01:39:39 PM by Strawman »
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Offline Strawman

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2012, 04:29:11 PM »
Here's an interesting summarily comparison:
Rationality evokes a sense of calmness and peace which is similar to death.
Irrationality evokes a sense of aggression, spirit and life.

Maybe this is why people are wary of science, because when you compare the extremes rationality looks pretty bleak.

Have I posted this thread in the wrong section? Everything else here seems to be links to videos and articles.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2012, 04:35:21 PM by Strawman »
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Offline Garja

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2012, 12:04:10 PM »
Cool post Strawman, except I will disagree with one point.

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The fear of death is entirely irrational

I believe that the fear of death is entirely rational for two reasons. 

1. It is a complete unknown.  No one has ever been dead and then stopped being dead. (near death does not count)  "Death" is something completely outside the human experience.

2. It is evolutionary advantageous to fear death.  If a being does not care if he/she dies he/she is much more unlikely to pass their genes onto the next generation which means that fearing and therefor avoiding death is perfectly rational.
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Offline Nickolas

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2012, 03:52:17 PM »
Cool post Strawman, except I will disagree with one point.

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The fear of death is entirely irrational

I believe that the fear of death is entirely rational for two reasons. 

1. It is a complete unknown.  No one has ever been dead and then stopped being dead. (near death does not count)  "Death" is something completely outside the human experience.

2. It is evolutionary advantageous to fear death.  If a being does not care if he/she dies he/she is much more unlikely to pass their genes onto the next generation which means that fearing and therefor avoiding death is perfectly rational.

Even if a fear of death might have been useful for our evolution as a species, an enormous and suspicious assumption, it does not mean it is useful now. It might be more reasonably argued that it is not so much a fear of death that was instrumental in our evolution as a fear of the pain of dying. One cannot in all seriousness argue that the evolution of all species that ever existed was facilitated by a fear of death unless one postulates the species' ability to ponder it as a transition into something else. Pondering existence is a decidedly human attribution. It requires the ability to reason and since our predecessor iterations did not have the ability to reason it cannot have been a factor in our evolution.

Unless you entertain the possibility of conciousness after death, an irrationality in itself, death is not an unknown but the starkest of realities. The state of personal existence following one's death is the same state of personal existence prior to his birth. Which is to say a state of nothingness. Non-existence. How is it possible to fear something that does not exist? Fear of death, therefore, is irrational.

 
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“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
(Mark Twain).
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2012, 04:15:20 PM »
The Importance of Irrationality

Fear is a powerful emotion. … fear made us run from the rustling bush that may or may not have concealed a predator, made us build high walls and develop great machines of war and industry to surpass our enemies and keep them at bay. It fuelled conquest that brought great wealth and prosperity, and justified the resultant suffering.
But fear and paranoia are merely the visible symptoms that surface from a deeper irrationality.
Your premises above are flawed. There are two types of fear, rational and irrational. A lunatic with a gun in front of you will cause rational fear, a mouse may cause irrational fear.

Fear is an emotion over which we have little control; it arises from the autonomic nervous system. Of itseslf, it probably is neither rational nor irrational but can be viewed subjectively or objectively to that end.
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What reason is there for life, for any life, not just our own? No rational one. For what reason do we eat, breathe and propagate?
This assumes that eating, breathing and procreating are also irrational and that they are independent – they are not. Our purpose here, like every other living creature from sequoias to viruses, is to procreate – to do that you eat and breathe. You don’t have much of a chance to procreate if you have no sense of danger, expressed through fear. 
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If it were not for our irrationality we would be extinct.
If we would be extinct then not being extinct would seem to be rational. It must therefore be rational to experience fear in the face of mortal danger.
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No purely rational being has any interest in prolonging its own existence.
This is wrong. I like to think I am rational… most of the time, I have no great desire for my life to end.
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Despite being irrational, superstitious fools,
Speak for yourself : )
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our capable nature allowed something very interesting to occur. Fear had driven us to create security for ourselves and our offspring.
Fear becomes rational… We see that sort of fear in all sentient beings – animals, birds, insects, etc.
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This safety afforded us the ability to remain children for longer and grow larger brains.
I think the size of our brain has other origins – Mole rats, ferrets and viruses are pretty safe but are not noted for their intellect.
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Inside these evolving brains lay a new mind, the protected mind, one which was governed not by fear but reason and gave birth to rationalism and science.
Observe animals; the main difference between homo sapiens and the rest is that we have an ability to believe that the past was real and the future is going to be real. We are able to, as you say, postulate various circumstances and readily do so. However, the advantage of this for pure survival is still open to debate. That it allows us to survive better is not open for debate.
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We still require our irrational mind to this day, in order to survive,
Just a minute! In your last sentence you were saying that the mind is rational… What’s happening?
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so we should not discard irrationality entirely but use both minds in tandem.
I think you have confused what “mind” is. It is the combination of the autonomic and conscious.
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And so our rationality is forever restricted by our mortality. Human logic and reasoning will forever be the artist's tools. But is that such a terrible thing?
That is comprised of bald statements, devoid of any evidence – were I immortal, I still would not pick a hot coal from the fire nor provoke a rattlesnake.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline stuffin

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2012, 11:20:20 PM »
So being irrational is rational?

Fuck, I gotta stop reading stuff in here......
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Offline Strawman

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2012, 06:08:04 AM »
Thanks for the responses.
I think I can answer everyone by saying that rationality can serve irrationality; this is what I meant by "logic and reasoning forever being the tools of the artist": we can never act purely rational because we have a biased interest in our survival as individuals and/or as a species. I'm not denying that fearing a genuine threat is rational, but it is rational in support of an irrational goal: to survive. Just as reproducing is rational for the continuation of the species, yet there is no rational reason to wish the species to persist nor for it to perish. This is how we can be both irrational and rational simultaneously, and why such a balance is imperative for our survival.
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Offline EV

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2012, 05:16:26 PM »
1. No one has ever been dead and then stopped being dead.

Except Jesus. ;)

The fear of death being exposed in Religion as an incentive to be good in life is another example of a meme (see Dawkins' evolutionary theories on memes) becoming incorporated into socio-religious life. The evolutionary advantage of fearing death meant that it propagated and expanded beyond one gene pool.
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Offline Strawman

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2013, 04:46:52 AM »
I've thought of a much better way to explain "the importance of irrationality".

This may sound counter-intuitive but irrationality is the foundation of intelligence. Intelligence can be defined as an individual's bias regarding their survival or that of their species/society (insanity could be classed as a negative bias). It's not that the universe wants us all dead but rather it is completely indifferent to our existence, it is rational whereas we are not.

This obvious cognitive conflict applies to every human being who has ever lived: we must be irrational when thinking about ourselves (to promote our survival) and rational when thinking about the universe (in order to accurately perceive it). We are all engaging in a daily ritual of double-think in order to effect our continued survival.

If we have an irrational perception of the universe then we have projected our own biases upon it: we believe that the universe has a vested interest in our survival (or conversely, our demise), we create gods that love us, protect us and have a need for our existence: a purpose for life. This inaccurate perception of reality may lead us to pray for healing or starve ourselves with the belief that god will keep us alive.

If we have a purely rational perception of ourselves then we will have no urge to survive: we will not seek food and shelter, we will have no bias towards our survival, we will be completely inactive or act erratically and let our survival depend entirely on luck. This behaviour is not intelligent, and to an onlooker we would seem indistinguishable from non-sentient beings.

It is immediately clear why religion exists and how it has survived: it is far better for us to be on the side of irrationality than rationality, for we only require a small helping of rationality to understand that we need to take action to ensure our survival and we wont be saved by magic; but without that want to survive in the first place we immediately have a worse chance of survival.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2013, 06:07:02 AM by Strawman »
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Offline kcrady

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2013, 08:01:06 AM »
This is a classic example of a Straw Vulcan:[1]



Shorter version: You keep using that word (rational).  It doesn't mean what you think it means.

Slightly less short vision: Epistemic rationality is using the best methodology you have to come up with the most accurate possible understanding of reality.  Instrumental rationality is choosing the course of action most likely to maximize your chances of achieving your goals.  So, if you're labeling something "rationality" that leads to wildly inaccurate ideas or foolish actions, then rationality: you're doing it wrong.
 1. A bit ironic, coming from a scarecrow. ;)
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Offline DumpsterFire

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2013, 09:09:27 AM »
Wow, that girl's hot! Wait, she's a nerd?!! Hot...nerd...hot...nerd...it just doesn't make any rational sense! Aaaaargh!!! <head explodes>
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2013, 09:38:21 AM »
Wow, that girl's hot! Wait, she's a nerd?!! Hot...nerd...hot...nerd...it just doesn't make any rational sense! Aaaaargh!!! <head explodes>

I think Socrates said almost the same thing.

Socrates parable about rationality:

In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about your friend?"

 "Hold on a minute," Socrates replied. "Before telling me anything I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."

 "Triple filter?"

 "That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you're going to say.  The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

 "No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..."

 "All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?"

 "No, on the contrary..."

 "So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, but you're not certain it's true. You may still pass the test though, because there's one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?"

 "No, not really."

 "Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither established as true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"

 This is why Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. It also explains why he never found out that his best friend was screwing his wife.


Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline kcrady

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2013, 01:43:45 AM »
OK, I gotta admit, watching her does mash all the happy buttons in my male brain, but still, I wish that the primary reaction to that video would have been something about, you know, the ideas she expressed that are directly relevant to the thread.   &)
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Offline Strawman

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Re: The Importance of Irrationality
« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2013, 03:31:07 PM »
@kcrady
Thanks for posting. Yes you're right I am using the word "rational" incorrectly, I couldn't think of an appropriate word. What I'm trying to say is that humans only employ rationality and try to achieve their goals because they are biased towards their own survival, even if it's detrimental to others or their environment. If we were selfless and put no higher value on human life we wouldn't have survived as well and we would not act rationally. Putting a high value on human life is rational but the reason for doing so is from a biased position that is not representative of reality: we are no more important than rocks, nothing is more important than anything else without an agenda.

We act rationally because of an irrational agenda: the "irrational" part being an unrealistic interpretation of reality; the "rational" part being working to our advantage (which requires a rational perspective of reality). This is the dichotomy I was trying to explain: we have to hold two world views, one to care about our survival and one to survive.

Is that any clearer?
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