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Rationality is Overrated

Rationality is overrated. Intuitive living matters too. But combining them is how you win in life.


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Jonas Ressem

4 months ago | 3 min read
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To win in life, rely on other (older) forces

As humans, we like to think we’re rational. Perhaps it’s because we take pride in it, feel superior in it, or simply because we understand the world through it.

And not that long ago, humans were viewed as just that; rational actors. At least, that’s what the standard economic theory proposed. If presented with all the data, we would make rational choices and successfully navigate through life.

This, however, turned out to be false. In the aftermath of several economic crises — where a clear divide in theory and human interaction presented itself —the real truth eventually unfolded:

Humans are not very rational.

This, however, didn’t come as a surprise to psychologists, who had held different beliefs about human nature. They had discovered that people were armed to the teeth with cognitive biases; errors in thinking that skew perception and decision-making.

As this discovery made its way into popular knowledge, people started to read up on the subject and engage in ‘bias-training’, as managing their biases would help them become more rational again. If our biases were managed, then we would make better choices and have the success we long for.

But this too, turned out to be false. There was still a problem. Though it’s easy to think rationality is the way win in life — as rational choices are logical and well-thought-out — it’s not actually the case. Rationality is overrated.

What Science Has Lost

We’re obsessed with rationality (especially in the western world). Ever since the enlightenment, the whole of the scientific engine has been obsessed with making progress. And to that aim, we’ve tried to escape our ancient, pre-scientific views of the world.

And with good reason. Without science, there’s error. Without rationality, there’s conflict.

In this aim, however, something was lost. Something crucial to living life to the best of our abilities. We lost touch with our own intuition.

Don't get me wrong. Rationality is great — if you’re building houses, developing medicine, or discovering new ways of sustainable energy. But it’s not equally great when dealing with the art of living. Life at large isn’t rational; it’s intuitive and ever flowing. And often there are no logical rules.

The immediate experience, the purposeful living, the fullness of a life lived — these things aren’t adequately covered by science.

And although rational and scientific thought can surely point us to better choices, it cannot help us with everything. We need something else. Something deeper. Something older.

We need intuition.

The Old Instinct

Before humans developed language and rational thought, we made choices in an entirely different way. We acted on instinct; in the ways that nature guided us.

This instinct is still with us today. But many seem to have forgotten it under the lure of rationality. (I know how it is. I used to be extremely rational when I was younger).

This instinct is our intuition. The gut-feeling. The voice inside you that signals you what to do. And it draws on thousands of years of evolutionary data that’s been stored in your body.

With intuition, you don’t think about what to do. You feel it. But how does that lead to better choices?

When you’re faced with a choice, your intuition collects every piece of information available. Our genes, our experience, and our environment, all send unconscious signals to your brain on what to do. You can think of it as the totality of your organism.

And just because it’s not rational, doesn’t mean it produces irrational outcomes. In fact, studies have shown that gut-based choices are surprisingly accurate. Sometimes even more accurate than our rational choices.

By contrast, a rational choice cannot account for all these factors. It can only account for the things you can consciously hold in your mind at a given time.

And that’s not very many (cognitive research suggest we can only hold about seven items in our mind). Besides, managing all our biases at the same time is impossible, so we’re still prone to making errors in judgement.

Think about it. Would you rather make a life-altering choice based on the totality of your organism as well as millions of years of evolutionary data, or a choice based on what you can reason by yourself in a few minutes?

The Way to Live

All this does not mean we should abandon rationality. Not at all. But it means we shouldn’t purely rely on it. What matters is to cultivate both. To combine them. To know when to be rational and when to follow your intuition.

Sure, rationality can increase our chances of success in school and formal settings. But it isn’t how we win in life. Life at large isn’t rational; it’s about experiencing. And that requires the totality of your organism.

Rationality is overrated. Intuitive living matters too. But combining them is how you win in life.

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Jonas Ressem

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From Norway. Building onliving.life. Exploring life through psychology, philosophy and entrepreneurship. Come explore with me: http://eepurl.com/dAtfdv


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