Being Human and the Sweet Spot of Irrationality

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Human beings are innately irrational. We tend to overeat when we shouldn’t, we don’t stick to fitness plans, we miss appointments, we forget we put our keys, we are easily manipulated by media, we smoke, we do harm to ourselves, we don’t get enough sleep, we overpay, we trust people we shouldn’t trust, we make snap judgments about people without really knowing anything about them, we lose track of our spending, we procrastinate. But is irrationality truly damaging to our well-being, is it really harmful?

Being human entails being irrational, at least to some extent. A lot of the arguments that would be given for irrationality being harmful center on our failure to achieve goals we put forth for ourselves. That doesn’t really damage us. It prevents us from achieving certain goals in the short run, sure, but I think that’s necessary for our well-being.

There are thousands of different occupations in life, there are so many different paths, and choices we can make, and this explains why, wherever you go, you will find that people are so different. Now imagine for a second, that we were all perfectly rational beings. And to be clear, when I say perfectly rational, I mean we are not subject to any mental heuristics or shortcuts, every single decision we make is precise, mathematical, and well thought out.

In this world society, what I suspect we would have is a convergence of behavior to an alarming degree. Since some decisions are more rational than others, and since we are all rational human beings in the made up world, we would all choose the most rational decision. We would choose the same food, we would choose the same clothing, and there probably wouldn’t be any music, since it’s irrational to make music for people who are so rational that they have successfully devoted their lives to maximizing their productivity, and things like art, music, poetry, and theater would really have no meaning.

It wouldn’t really be a world that’s attractive to live in. Now, I’m not saying we need to be completely irrational, but some level of irrationality is welcome. It keeps us wanting to continually struggle against our nature, and that’s exactly what motivates us to improve. We need to be imperfect to have any kind of meaning in life. We need to fail at achieving our goals, so that when we do achieve our goals, they become all the more meaningful. If people didn’t have to endure hardships towards achieving what they want, then it would greatly reduce the meaning of trying to pursue that goal in the first place.

It takes hard work and tremendous effort to be able to identify our points of irrationality and then address them properly, but by having this balance, by consciously implementing rationality to fight irrationality, we become constantly motivated to strive for improvement.

Imagine human beings were perfectly rational beings who never made any mistakes, that all our thinking processes were perfectly valid and consistent. It would make for quite a boring existence, and that I feel, that would be quite damaging. Being completely rational is clearly not as harmful as being completely irrational (You’re more likely to survive if you’re completely rational), but the point here is that a little bit of irrationality is not really damaging us.

The more we learn about our irrationality, and the more we are able to adopt novel ways of becoming more rational, the more effective we will become at accomplishing our goals, and reaching a higher level of satisfaction, and the more we will be able to understand why human beings act the way they do, and that in itself is fascinating. Too much irrationality can obviously be harmful. We would make the wrong choices too often, and in a world where rationality exists, being too irrational can be a cause of social exile. Having said that, the level of irrationality that most people possess isn’t harmful at all.

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