Humans and Reason - An Impossibility?

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Humans and Reason - An Impossibility?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:33 pm

Salvete amici!

I would like to re-up an old thread (De Principiis Decernendi), because it has become relevant again in a recent discussion. However I thought, I create a new thread and just quote the relevant part from the old one.
It is about the question: Can humans be reasonable at all? Or are we not just kept on the leash of our passions? Do we simply make up "rational arguments" after we have decided based on our passions?
So does it make sense at all to argue rational with others? Would it not be better to incite their emotions in order to sway their opinions?

Here is my post from the other thread:

So how do conscious decisions work?
The decision-making process begins with the occurrence of a situation that requires a conscious choice among several feasible options. It is a situation, which is too complex for a simple subconscious reaction based on instinct or conditioning of the nervous system. The conscious mind is therefore alerted and made aware that its intervention is required.
Ideally the conscious mind would now begin a rational analysis of the situation. It would take all available data into consideration without any bias. It would calculate the probabilities of the resulting scenarios after every possible choice. Then it would evaluate the benefit of these possible outcomes.
Finally the option with the most beneficial outcome and a reasonable probability would be selected.
The individual would then act according to the decision that has been consciously made.
This would be the ideal process of decision-making that leads to an optimal decision.

Ideal decision-making process:
  1. Situation requiring a conscious choice among several options
  2. Rational analysis of all options
  3. Selecting the option with the most beneficial outcome and a reasonable probability
  4. Acting according to the decision

However the decision-making process in human beings does not follow this ideal pattern, since humans are subject to emotional bias. It is therefore commonly assumed that this emotional bias can play a significant role when making conscious decisions and in some cases can lead to a non-optimal decision. This means the result of the decision is either less beneficial or even harmful (often in the long term) or the desired beneficial outcome is simply unlikely and based on wishful thinking.
We are all aware that a high level of emotional stress can for example lead to aggressive behavior that can result in serious harm for oneself. Although a violent reaction can bring immediate relief from an emotional stress situation like a perceived threat to the social status, in most cases it endangers the physical integrity of the person reacting violently. And even if this is not the case, there is a high risk of later reprisal or social consequences like conflict with laws or the institutions that enforce them.
Considering these obvious influences of emotional and other irrational motivations on the human decision-making process, it is therefore commonly assumed that in real life the decision-making process in human beings follows a slightly different pattern.

We start again with a situation that requires a conscious choice among several apparently viable options of reacting.
Similar to the ideal pattern of decision-making it is assumed that the human mind makes a rational assessment of the feasible options and the most beneficial result with a reasonable probability based on the available data. Additionally to this rational analysis it is believed that emotional bias and personal inclinations are taken into consideration. This is believed to be the cause of sub-optimal decisions. Emotional reasons or instinctive impulses are given priority over rational analysis.
The resulting decision can therefore be based either on the application of reason and logic or on emotional bias. The human mind is believed to be given the freedom to choose between these two options, either acting according to reason or acting according to his feelings.
Later when the human is questioned about his decision, he is expected to be able to explain the reasons for his decisions, either by justifying them by reproducing the logical analysis or by admitting his emotional inclinations. In cases that the latter ones might be embarrassing for him, he might attempt to cover them up and provide false rational explanations. However the human is considered to be mostly aware of the real motives for his actions and the false nature of his explanation.
In some cases however it is believed that it might be difficult for the human being to identify the real emotional motives behind his actions. This is thought to cause a certain degree of confusion and emotional discomfort due to the inconsistencies of his personality. In a mentally healthy person this is not believed to be a major problem. But if this happens to a major extent, so that somebody is not able to understand his own decisions and actions in the aftermath, it is believed to be an indicator of a psychotic or neurotic personality or some other kind of mental disorder.

Commonly assumed human decision-making process:
  1. Situation requiring a conscious choice among several options
  2. Taking into consideration rational analysis and emotional bias or instinct
  3. Decision is made either based on reason or on emotions or instinct
  4. Acting according to the decision
  5. If questioned afterwards, the rational or emotional motives for the decisions are explained.

However this model is still too optimistic about the true nature of the human decision-making process. In fact rational analysis plays no role at all when humans make a decision. Reason and logic only get involved AFTER the actual decision has already been made. And the decision has always been made based on totally different motives that have nothing to do with a rational analysis of the situation.

The decision-making process starts with the situation that requires a conscious choice among several viable options.
The human mind then makes a decision ENTIRELY based on emotional bias, instinct or conditioning.
Only AFTER the decision is already made, the human mind uses reason and logic to make up arguments to justify his decision in case he will be questioned later.
Then he acts according to his instinctive or emotional decision.
The order of the last two steps can be reversed. The human might only make up rational arguments for his decision after he had already acted or he does not make any attempt to produce a justification for his decision at all. Reason and logic are unnecessary for the whole process.

Real human decision-making process:
  1. Situation requiring a conscious choice among several options
  2. Decision is made based on instinct or emotional bias
  3. Fabricating rational arguments to justify the decision in case of being questioned later
  4. Acting according to instinctive or emotional decision

It is interesting to compare this decision-making process in humans with the analog process in other animals.
In this case the animal faces a situation that requires a conscious choice among several possible options.
The animal is unable to conduct any advanced rational analysis of the situation and therefore makes its decision solely based on its instinct or its emotions.
It then acts according to its instinctive decision.
It is later unable to justify its decision and soon forgets about it.

Decision-making process in animals:
  1. Situation requiring a conscious choice among several options
  2. Decision is made based on instinct or emotional bias
  3. Acting according to instinctive decision
  4. Unable to justify the decision

There is not much of a difference in the decision-making process of humans and animals. It is essentially the same, because there is no fundamental difference between humans and other animals. Humans and animals are both biological systems and have developed according to the same principles of biological evolution. They function in the same way. And their decision-making process follows the same pattern. They share the same biological matrix, which is responsible for the way their system functions. Their organisms use hormones and other molecules that serve as messengers between cells and stimulate or dampen the neuronal activity. These hormones are in most cases responsible for the emotions and inclinations that are the determining factor of conscious decisions. They are the biochemical background of the models that we have developed.
The capability of humans for advanced rational analysis is not used in determining the actions of human beings. It only has a subordinate function that is not involved in human behavior but only in the process of justification, either towards other humans or towards oneself.
The only instance where reason and logic takes part in the human decision making process is after the decision has already been made in order to justify it fabricating reasons that have never had anything to do with the actual decision. The decision-making process itself is identical in humans and animals.

There is one exception in this pattern though. Human beings show a high ability to act logically and reasonable in their assigned profession. The highly evolved level of technology and civilization would not be possible without this ability. This can only be explained by a distinctly different process of decision-making depending on whether a human being is in a professional environment or making decisions on a personal level.
The difference is his emotional involvement with the decision. When making decisions on a personal level, he is emotionally affected by the decision. The outcome of the decision matters for him personally. He is not indifferent towards the decision. In a professional environment this is not the case. Many professions are highly specialized, so that the worker is totally alienated from his work. He is performing his job mechanically without any emotional engagement. It does not matter for him what particular decision he makes, since any outcome is not important for him on a personal level. This is just as true for simple mechanical work as for complex calculations of an engineer. Whatever might be the result of an engineer's calculation, it does not matter for him personally. This is why he is able to have his professional decisions based solely on reason and logic.

The decision-making process in a professional environment is therefore as following:
We have a situation that requires a conscious choice among several viable options.
Emotional bias and instinct are unable to develop any preference for a particular decision.
By rational calculation a human is able to provide logical justifications for a particular decision while not so for others. At the same time he is aware that not being able to justify his decisions could have negative consequences for him.
He therefore decides in favor of the rational solution, because it makes the justification of the decision easier.
Then he acts according to his decision, which has a fully rational justification.

Decision-making process in the state of emotional equanimity:
  1. Situation requiring a choice between several options
  2. Decision cannot be made based on instinct or emotional bias due to total indifference regarding the subject of the decision
  3. Decision is made based on rational analysis in order to make its justification easier
  4. Acting according to the decision

The human decision-making process cannot be changed. It is part of the way the human brain operates. But if step 2 is skipped due to indifference, the brain is forced to make the decision according to reason and logic in step 3.

For rational decisions, emotional indifference is indispensable.
In order to make optimal rational decisions in daily life, we have to train emotional indifference.
This is what the Stoics called apatheia, a state of mind without emotions and passions. It is a requirement for rational thinking and acting.

The Logos as Method of Persuasion

Since humans that are not conditioned for emotional indifference make their decisions and arrive at their opinions based on their emotional bias and their instincts and totally unaffected by logic and reason, it is pointless to attempt to change their opinion by logical reasoning (logos). Even if we succeed in pointing out the fallacies of their reasoning, this would have no effect on their preformed opinions and would only require them to adjust their reasoning in order to arrive at the same decision or opinion as before.
The effort done by attempting to discuss a certain subject rationally with irrational persons creates the false illusion of a logical analysis of the problem. It is delusional to think that different rational arguments that appear contradicting were seriously considered in an attempt to eliminate false or weak arguments and to achieve a better solution, which would be accepted by everybody involved in the discussion. It is a waste of time and effort, has no possibility to contribute anything useful to the rational analysis of a problem and should therefore be avoided. It can even destabilize the emotional indifference towards the subject by mistaking the discussion as a personal challenge or mistaking it as an indication of a fallacy in our own logical reasoning and causing the urge to verify and reaffirm it. Although verifying and reaffirming own conclusions are no mistake per se, doing so driven by the urge to defend our personal prestige is.

If it is necessary to change the decision or opinions of irrational persons, it is usually more efficient to do this by changing their emotional state or invoking different instincts (pathos as method of persuasion). Logical arguments will have no effect. It can be achieved by creating either positive or negative emotional motivation (incentives or threats - argumentum ad baculum) or appealing to fear or sympathy.

Another method of persuasion is ethos. This is done by seeking moral high-ground and pointing out the own virtues, while at the same time attacking the opponent personally (argumentum ad hominem) to undermine his reputation. Nothing of this invalidates his arguments, but the audience is less likely to listen to them.

A rational discussion of a subject is only useful in a professional environment, where the participants of the discussion are indifferent towards the outcome, or where the participants have learned to suppress their emotional bias in order to reach an indifferent state of mind.

If we are trained in logic and the identification of fallacies, we can notice when these strategies are used on us. We should then immediately discard the fallacious argument brought forth and only take the valid logical arguments into consideration.

The most important issue is equanimity. If we want to be able to act rational, then we have to train ourselves to be able to maintain equanimity just as the Stoics did. This is the essential and most difficult part.
All that has been said in earlier posts, all the logical inference rules and formulae were easy. We can take our time to use them properly and we can get help from others when we make formal mistakes.
What is difficult is achieving the state of equanimity, because it goes against our biological nature.
But as Homines sapientes we are supposed to be "wise men", not driven by instincts and biology like animals. This is what the Stoics assumed to be the human nature - being rational. And living according to our nature as humans means always being rational in our decisions and never being influenced by emotional bias.

So yes, if we do not make an effort for ourselves, we will be on the leash of our passions.
But it does not need to be like that. There is a way out.
We have to become detached from the issue in question. We have to learn equanimity as a way of life. It is the Stoic practice that can help us (not so much the Stoic theory though). The Stoics called it Apatheia (ἀπάθεια).
It is possible to become fully rational, even if we will still commit occasional errors. And we can try to spread this idea. This is the task of us as philosophers.
We should remind our opponents in discussions, when they becomes emotional. And when we ourselves get driven away by our passions, then there is hopefully somebody who admonishes us to find our way back to rationality.


C. Florius Lupus
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Re: Humans and Reason - An Impossibility?

Postby Gaius Curtius Philo » Wed Jan 17, 2018 1:26 am

I believe in general the greatest reason debates tend to become circular is three reasons:
I) People limit themselves to debating terms instead of ideas. One person says "this means this", the other "this means that". It ends up not being a debate at all, but just two people going back and forth saying what they think something means. A remedy for that: Both sides previously agree in the exact meaning of each used term Before the discussions begins.

II) People tend to talk through faith instead of reason. As in, people talk of "I believe"s. They just have emotional ties to their ideas. The remedy: People need to take deep breaths and search peace in their minds. They need to ask themselves Why are they so tied to this idea and if it is truly more important than finding the Truth. They must try with all their might to see their discussion buddy as a comrade in arms. As a fellow searcher of truth. As someone who has absolutely nothing to gain from them being wrong and who just wants to, together with you, explore the great mysteries of Creaton.

III) People at times have different Objectives from one another in the debate. This may happen at times, when people are debating, that they actually do not have the same goal in mind when debating something. One person may value Freedom over all else. The other may value Equality. The Remedy: In here there still can be a valid debate, but both sides must be aware of the others goals and they must take that into account whenever the person uses a term relevant to said goals (like the word "good" or "efficient"). People can agree that a given thing is "good" for something and still be completely opposed to it.

That's my contribution.
"Ignis aurum probat" - Seneca
C. Curtius L. f. Vot. Philo Aurelianus
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Re: Humans and Reason - An Impossibility?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:55 am

Salve amice!

You brought up a very important issue, the debates about words and their meaning.
At the beginning of every philosophical debate the proponent of an idea should define exactly the essential terms, so that everybody debates about the same thing. He is hereby not bound by the common use of the term, but can establish his own meaning of it for use in this particular debate.
Formally this has to do with avoiding an ambiguous middle term (equivocation), i.e. a word used in two meanings, because it would lead to a quaternium terminorum fallacy, an invalid syllogism with four terms.

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