Con­ve­nient Rea­son­ing

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page Ict Trade -

In a new book, The Enigma of Rea­son:ANewThe­o­ryof Hu­manUn­der­stand­ing, the cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sper­ber take a stab at an­swer­ing this ques­tion. Mercier, who works at a French re­search in­sti­tute in Lyon, and Sper­ber, now based at the Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity, in Bu­dapest, point out that rea­son is an evolved trait, like bipedal­ism or three-colour vi­sion. It emerged on the African sa­van­nahs.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cog­ni­tive-sci­enceese, Mercier and Sper­ber’s ar­gu­ment runs, more or less, as fol­lows: hu­mans’ big­gest ad­van­tage over other species is our abil­ity to co­op­er­ate. Co­op­er­a­tion is dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish and al­most as dif­fi­cult to sus­tain. And, for any in­di­vid­ual, freeload­ing is al­ways the best course of ac­tion.

Rea­son de­vel­oped not to en­able us to solve ab­stract, log­i­cal prob­lems or even to help us draw­con­clu­sions­fro­mun­fa­mil­iar data; rather, it de­vel­oped to re­solve the prob­lems posed by liv­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tive groups. “Rea­son is an adap­ta­tion to the hy­per­so­cial niche hu­mans have evolved for them­selves,” Mercier and Sper­ber write.

Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “in­tel­lec­tu­al­ist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a so­cial “in­ter­ac­tion­ist” per­spec­tive. Con­sider what is be­come known as “con­fir­ma­tion bias”, the ten­dency peo­ple have to em­brace in­for­ma­tion that sup­ports their be­liefs and re­ject in­for­ma­tion that con­tra­dicts them.

From “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds”

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