Home


On this page...

Introduction;
Are we sheep?
Use of daylight
References
Index

Rationality: not a strong trait in humans

The hole in the ozone layer and more importantly, climate change and ocean acidification, have shown that humanity has great power to change our environment and the Earth's systems; our failure to respond appropriately to the latter two problems, in spite of knowing that inaction will be disastrous, demonstrates that we are largely irrational beings.

Written 2009/06/02, modified 2015/02/22
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
Home


Introduction

Many human traits are manifestly irrational...
  • You need only observe the traffic on any road to see irrational behaviour; few people drive in a way that is efficient in fuel use, conservative in wear on their vehicle and its components, and maximises safety. Young men, in particular, often drive with the subconscious aim of achieving adrenalin rushes.
  • Our use of tobacco and many illicit drugs is harmful to our health, often damaging to society, and produces no net benefits to anyone (apart from the tobacco companies and organised crime).
  • Poker machines are designed to make money for their owners and for the owners of the premises that house the machines; it is absolutely impossible for regular players to do anything other than loose a substantial part of the money that they put into the machines; yet there are many who love to 'play' the pokies. Playing poker machines makes as much sense as taking money from your bank account and burning every fifth note.
  • Economists and governments refuse to recognise that growth cannot continue for ever; both believe that the economy must grow if a nation is to be 'successful'. A growing economy generally means a growing amount of consumption and a growing rate of depletion of natural resources; things that are not sustainable.
  • Religion is perhaps the most widespread and important human irrationality; the majority of the world's people subscribe to one or another conflicting and disparate sets of beliefs on which they largely base their lives, but for which there is absolutely no evidence.
The great pity is that humans have, by our science and technology – and in spite of this streak or irrationality, become very powerful. We have, primarily by our mining and burning of fossil fuels, changed the composition of 'our' planet's atmosphere to the point where the climate is changing and the oceans are becoming uncomfortably acidic for many of the organisms that live in them. This is all generally disadvantageous to, not only ourselves, but to many other species.

It is ironic that we can be sufficiently intellitent to see this, to be able to understand the ways in which the Earth is changing, the consequences of our actions and our inactions, but not have the rationality needed to make the necessary changes to our behaviours. Is it that some of us are rational, but many are not; some are governed by their intelligence, others largely by emotions?

 

Why?

Why are the great majority of people unwilling to take action while our governments allow climate change to gradually destroy the world that we know and love?
Our greatest irrationalities seem often to be associated with short-sighted thinking. Climate change is a long-term threat, driving (rather than walking or riding a bicycle) to the shop is a short-term activity. We seem unable, individually or collectively, to change our short-term behaviour for the sake of our long-term survival. Many of our day-to-day activities need to change for us to control climate change.

Our use of antibiotics is another example of short-sited thinking harming our long-term welfare. Our farmers feed antibiotics to their animals because it slightly increases the growth rates – at the same time as training bacteria to live successfully in the presence of antibiotics.

Intelligent life on Earth has been one of nature's greatest experiments in this wonderful Universe. It seems a shame that it appears to have failed because of an insufficiency of rationality.

A list of things that can be done to reduce greenhouse impact is given on another page; many of them would also save money. Why are we not doing them?

Home
Top
Index





 
Added 2015/02/22

Are we sheep or rational beings?

As I write this the proposed execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine heroin trafficking group, is due to happen in Indonesia within the next few weeks. Just for the record, I'll say that I am opposed to the death penalty; it is very final, if a conviction is found to be an error there is no way of undoing an execution. I'll also say that the two may well have been rehabilitated and, if they were released, could prove to be useful members of society in the future.

But it is all a matter of proportion.

It has been a very convenient distraction for the Abbott Australian government. PM Abbott has done all he can to keep the coal industry alive and to hold back renewable energy development in Australia. His actions have locked in a higher level of climate change and ocean acidification than was necessary and these developing global disasters will displace millions of people and cause the extinction of thousands of species.

Similarly, millions of people have been displaced and tens or hundreds of thousands killed in the Middle East due, at least in part, to the meddling of Western nations, particularly the USA, UK and Australia.

But in mid to late February 2015 the Australian people seem to care far more about the lives of two convicted drug smugglers in Indonesia than they do for these enormously bigger problems.

Home
Top
Index





 
Edited 2013/07/15

Use of daylight

People function best in daylight; our eyes are much more poorly adapted to operating at night than those of nocturnal animals. This being so, why do the great majority of people sleep during the first few hours of daylight and remain wakeful during the first few hours of darkness in the evening? This is not an efficient use of the daylight hours; rather than waking around 0800 and going to bed about midnight it would seem to make much more sense to wake around 0400 and go to bed about 2000 – either way you can get the required eight hours of sleep.

 

Why?

People must be somehow 'hard-wired' to keep these irrational hours. I don't understand this behaviour, I've never read an explanation, and can't even guess why it is so common. I'd be interested to hear if someone has a reasonable explanation for it.
I live in an area with a long, hot summer (Mid-North South Australia). Many days in summer are hot enough so that most people try to avoid going out during the hottest part of the day. On these hot days I rise at or before daylight so that I can use the best part of the day; the period during morning twilight and the first few hours after sunrise when the temperatures are pleasant, or at least tolerable; but I see few others out and about then.

The evenings on these hot days are a little cooler than near the middle of the day, but of course temperatures typically decline from sunset until around sunrise of the next day, so the mornings are normally cooler than the evenings.

It is irrational to sleep during that part of the day that is most pleasant to be out, and then try to be active in some less pleasant part of the day. Surely we can all easily learn to go to bed and sleep earlier in the evening and then rise earlier too?

Home
Top
Index





References

Bruce Hood, in his book, 'Supersense: From Superstition to Religion – the Brain Science of Belief' makes the point that our brain's 'design' is such that the formation of beliefs not based on evidence can easily form, especially early in our lives.

Michael Shermer has made statements along the same lines.






Index

Are we sheep?
Introduction
References
Top
Use of daylight
Top
Home
Top
Home