Human irrationality

I’ve cited three things that are illustrative of humanities irrationality:

1. Near vs far

2. Now vs. future

3. Concrete vs abstract

Humans irrationally favor near, now and concrete over far, then and abstract and because of this bias, they make bad decisions.

Now, add a fourth: Personal vs. Them as in me and mine and they and theirs.

But, the deep truth that shows the irrationality of all of these biases is the simple fact that everything in this world is β€˜one’.


11 Responses to “Human irrationality”

  1. Joel says:

    Dennis, we disagree here. Proximity (space, time, clarity) is a totally rational bias. Its utility has been proven and adapted as a matter of survival over thousands of years of human evolution. Whether or not it is the best choice now, or even a possible alternative, is a different question. As to “us vs. them”, what creature able to make conscious choice thinks “them” first? Many non-sentient species do (which posits an interesting philosophical query about the concept of rational thought), but them ain’t us.

    Many of the dominant religions have, as basic tenets, some approach that tries to mitigate basic human tendencies for “the greater good”. Irrespective of how much/little we agree with other purposes behind religions (power, control, ego, etc.), this would argue that inherent i many religions is the thinking process that is more closely aligned with your ideas.

    So, Dennis, did you know you were a closeted supporter of religion? Hah — I thought not!

  2. Dennis says:


    You are right that the utility of our biases were rational during our earlier evolution. Indeed, it was those selective pressures that made us as we are.

    But, the game has changed around us and we have not changed to adapt to the new situations.

    In this conversation, I’m going to ignore the distinction between the Personal and the Others. I’m still working my thoughts out on that one.

    When other species could hunt us as well as we hunted them and when the world was so very large and our numbers and power were so small comparatively, then it made good survival sense to prioritize our considerations of the Near, the Now, and the Concrete (NNC) over the Far, the Future, and the Abstract(FFA).

    But, as I said, the game has changed and what served us well then does not serve us well now.

    But, aside from how our evolved biases towards NNC serve us, there’s the matter of the sheer illogic, if we examine the question.

    If I cut down a grove of trees in my yard or cut down a similar grove far away on the other side of the world, is there any significant difference in how much Oxygen will *not* be released into the atmosphere because they are gone?

    If I kill the last Siberian Tigers today or I set in motion a chain of events that will result in their extermination in five years, will it make their loss *any* different ten years and on from now?

    If I break into a man’s house and take his physical money from under his mattress or if I hack into his bank account and transfer his money, as abstract ciphers, to some where where he cannot recover it, does it make him *any* real difference?

    Things have changed in a big way while we, largely, have remained with the same biases that evolution instilled in us when we were hunter-gatherers.

    But now no other species has any hope of harming us. Now, our numbers have grown so much due to the lack of any serious competition and due to our ability to control our environment (think food growing), that we are literally pressing up against the walls or the world with little room to turn around in. And our power to effect the world has grown immensely.

    We’re in a situation where the logic of our own survival demands that we think of the things are are Far away, in the Future, and that are Abstract. Not doing so and not valuing these FFA issues equally with the NNC issues is literally killing us.

    We burn oil for short term profits will little regard for the effects of the CO2 later on.

    We fish the oceans as efficiently as we can for the short-term profits with little regard for the effects later on.

    we are consuming the world’s resources faster than they can recover. We are polluting the planet with CO2 faster than it can deal with. We are pumping the aquifers faster than they can recover. We are fishing…. We are cutting lumber…. We are out of control and much of the blame for all of these self-destructive behaviors can be traced back to our evolutionary biases.


  3. Mike says:


    I do not get it. What is your point? At the end of the day, It is all about evolution. What worked then and even now is no guarantee that it will work in the future. Everything is focused upon the now. Your many comments about the biological imperative proves this point. What do you expect out of humanity? Do you think one day there will be a universal epithany?

    I was talking with my daughter today and commented that the universe is approximately 13.5 billion years old and we as a species have been around a few hundred thousand years. The way we are going, we won’t make it much longer. As a matter of observation, the Earth would be extatic if we were to go extinct tomorrow. At least the planet might recover and continue on. As I see it, we are on a suicide mission, and intend to take everything we can on our way down with our self imposed self destruction.

    Nevertheless, I commend you on your eloquent pros. However, at the end of the day, you can dress up a pig and take it to a dance, but, when you dance with it, you will end up covered in mud and find yousef facing a pissed off pig.

    BTW: Is there a difference between truth and “Deep Truth”?

    Cheers, M

  4. Dennis says:


    I suppose the point is simply to express the truth, as I see it. I don’t claim it is the ‘absolute’ truth because I don’t believe there is such a thing. But I think there are a lot of ‘truths’ around of different qualities for us to root around in. And one naturally selects among them.

    You know, from our private discussions, that I essentially agree with you that “we are on a suicide mission, and intend to take everything we can on our way down with our self imposed self destruction”.

    The Hindus say to do everything as well as you can and then to give up any concern for the fruits of your labor.

    They mean that doing things well is something that needs no external justification; it is just right and sufficient in itself.

    They also mean that when you have done something as well as you can, then there is nothing more that you could have done, so let it go; the results will take care of themselves; they are no longer your responsibility.

    Martin Buber puts the same idea sightly differently. He says everything is a conversation between you and God (or the Universe or whatever). What you do is your half of the conversation. How existence responds (what happens) is God’s part of the conversation. You only need to worry about your half and then accept God’s will.

    So, I don’t have any massive ‘point’. I’m just doing what I want to do because I think it is right. What will happen will happen and I will accept it because as Buddha says (bringing out all the big guns here), humans wishing reality was different than is is is the root of all human unhappiness.

    And what, my friend, is the difference between truth and ‘Deep Truth’?



  5. Mike says:


    Someone once told me that even if spiritual guides exist, that does not mean what they tell you is true, accurate or even good advice. That rang true within me. I have the same opinion regarding regious figures and philosphers, either living or dead.

    Regarding truth, either a thing is true or it is not. I can’t see the fidelity you seem to ascribe.

    If you need a philosopher for clarity, try Yoda:

    “Always in motion is the future.”


  6. Dennis says:

    “…even if…” and “That rang true within me.”.

    And “…a thing is true or it is not.”

    How can all those be consistent? The first two make no pretense at being anything but subjective judgments.

    Whereas the third asserts an absolute. I don’t think you can have it both ways.

    I begin from asserting that nothing can be known absolutely and that everything we believe, therefore, must be an a priori assumption which, therefore, can be no better, in an absolute sense, than anyone else’s.

    Why do I assert this? Because I’ve never seen anyone prove anything; including myself. It always comes down to what we choose to believe; regardless of how absolute a truth it is that we think we’re expressing.

    Even you couldn’t believe that “……a thing is true or it is not.”.

    Or would you like to argue the proposition that vanilla is better than chocolate? Or Liberals are better people than Conservatives? Or …? Well, I think you get the point.


  7. Mike says:


    You absolutely missed my point.

    Can we say “defensive”? You fire off a mismash of eastern plisopophical statements as an attemp to establish intellectual superiority, thus justifying why someone should find credibility in what you expous. My response to that approach is to let you know that I know that it’s pure bat guana.

    My initial statement inquired about the use of the term “deep truth”‘ which you used without first establishing its meaning with respect to plain ol “vanilla truth”. Again plain ol “bat quana”. Lastly, a pig is still a pig, and you should leave it in the pig sty where you found it.


  8. Dennis says:

    Thank you, M. You are my best defense. (smile)

    I hardly need to respond.


  9. Dennis says:

    M, M, M,

    I’ve found just the thing for you. Something to alleviate this aggravation you seem to experience whenever I say something you don’t agree with:

    I hope this may give you some relief πŸ™‚


  10. Mike says:

    I elect to forgo opening your link. I suppose, if you had your way, I would just roll over and post accolaides whenever you use the PIDOMA model to wax eloquently on some esoteric nonsense.


  11. Dennis says:

    Now, what fun is it to poke a bear with a stick if you cannot even get a reaction. Where have all the predictable conservatives gone? πŸ™‚