Tag Archives: irrationality

John Perry

The observant reader may feel at this point that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, because one is in effect constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly. One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, while making oneself feel that these tasks are important and urgent. This is not a problem, because virtually all procrastinators have excellent self-deception skills. And what could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the negative effects of another?

John Perry, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Dallying, Lollygagging, and Postponing, New York, 2012, p. 7

Jonathan Haidt

Because we can see only one little corner of the mind’s vast operation, we are surprised when urges, wishes, and temptations emerge, seemingly from nowhere. We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions, and then are surprised by our own powerlessness to carry them out. We sometimes fall into the new that we are fighting with our unconscious, our id, or our animal self. But really we are the whole thing. We are the rider, and we are the elephant.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, New York, 2006, p. 22

Derek Parfit

I sometimes want to kick my car[.] Since I have this anger at material objects, which is manifestly irrational, it’s easier to me to think, when I get angry with people, that this is also irrational.

Derek Parfit, ‘An Interview with Derek Parfit’, Cogito, Vol. 9, No. 2 (August, 1995), p. 118

Keith Stanovich

[D]eification of intelligence can have a truly perverse moral consequence that we often fail to recognize—the denigration of those low in mental abilities measured in intelligence tests. Such denigration goes back to the very beginnings of psychometrics as an enterprise. Sir Francis Galton would hardly concede that those low in IQ could feel pain: The discriminative facility of idiots is curiously low; they hardly distinguish between heat and cold, and their sense of pain is so obtuse that some of the more idiotic seem hardly to know what it is. In their dull lives, such pain as can be excited in them may literally be accepted with a welcome surprise.
Milder and subtler version so f this denigration continue down to the modern day. In 2004 author Michael D’Antonio published a book titled The State Boys Rebellion about the ill treatment of boys in the Walter E. Fernald School for the Feebleminded and how a group of boys residing at the school rebelled against this treatment. Disturbingly, however, reviews of the book tended to focus on the stories of those boys who later were found to have normal IQs. The The York Times Book Review (June 27, 2004) titled its review “A Ledger of Broken Arms: Misdiagnosis and Abuse at a School for the ‘Feebleminded’ in the 1950s.” We might ask what in the world does “misdiagnosis” have to do with the issue of highlighting the ill treatment in these institutions? The implication here is that somehow it was less tragic for those “properly diagnosed”—whatever that may mean in this context. Shades of Galton, and of the dark side of the deification of intelligence, are revealed in the reactions to this book.

Keith Stanovich, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, New Haven, 2009, p. 53

John Stuart Mill

If mankind were capable of deriving the most obvious lessons from the facts before them, in opposition to their preconceived opinions, Mormonism would be to them one of the most highly instructive phenomena of the present age. Here we have a new religion, laying claim to revelation and miraculous powers, forming within a few years a whole nation of proselytes, with adherents scattered all over the earth, in an age of boundless publicity, and in the face of a hostile world. And the author of all this, in no way imposing or even respectable by his moral qualities, but, before he became a prophet, a known cheat and liar. And with this example before them, people can still think the success of Christianity in an age of credulity and with neither newspapers nor public discussion a proof of its divine origin!

John Stuart Mill, ‘Diary’ (April 10, 1854), in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 27, p. 667

Jon Elster

Delay strategies might seem to hold out the best promise for dealing with emotion-based irrationality. Since emotions tend to have a short half-life, any obstacle to the immediate execution of an action tendency could be an effective remedy. As I note later, public authorities do indeed count on this feature of emotion when they require people to wait before making certain important decisions. It is rare, however, to observe people imposing delays on themselves for the purpose of counteracting passion. The requisite technologies may simply be lacking.

Jon Elster, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, Cambridge, 2007, p. 242

Gina Trapani

Picture this: You sit down at your computer to write a report that’s due the next day. You fire up a web browser to check the company intranet for a document. For a split second, you glance at your home page. “Wow!” you say. “The Red Sox won in the 17th inning! Let me see what happened…”

Three hours later, no report’s been written, and you want to throw yourself out of the window.

Sound familiar?

It’s too easy to scamper down the rabbit hole of the Web when you’ve gt pressing tasks to work on. At one point or another, you’ve probably burned a few hours clicking around Wikipedia, Amazon.com, eBay, Flickr, YouTube, or Google News when you had a deadline to meet. Surfing efficiently is an exercise in discipline and sometimes outright abstinence. This hack uses the LeechBlock Firefox extension to blank out certain web sites during times you’re supposed to be working. […]

[A] particularly determined procrastinator might say, “If it’s a block I can disable, I’ll do it.” If you find yourself blocked from a time-wasting site that you insist on visiting (and to hell with your deadline), you could go into LeechBlock’s options and undo the block. However, LeechBlock comes with a clever feature built to prevent just that. In LeechBlock’s options dialog, check off “Prevent access to options for this block set at times when these sites are blocked.”

Gina Trapani, Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Indianapolis, 2008, pp. 140-141, 146

Frank Jackson

We think of certain departures from the principles encapsulated in probability theory, logic, decision theory, and Bayesian confirmation theory as irrational. For example, it is irrational to be more confident of the truth of a conjunction than of one of its conjuncts, and this norm corresponds to the fact that a conjunction cannot be more probable than either of its conjuncts. Should we think of departures from consequentialism principles in the same way?

Frank Jackson, ‘Departing from Consequentialism versus Departing from Decision Theory’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 17, no. 1 (March, 1994), p. 21

Yew-Kwang Ng

Consider Mr. C. He believes that, in the presence of uncertainty, the appropriate thing to do is to maximize the expected welfare. (Welfare is used interchangeably with net happiness. For simplicity, consider only choices that do not affect the welfare of others.) Suppose you put C in the privacy of a hotel room with an attractive, young, and willing lady. C can choose to go to bed with her or not to. C knows that the former choice involves a small but not negligible risk of contracting AIDS. He also calculates that the expected welfare of this choice is negative. Nevertheless, he agrees that, provided the lady is beautiful enough, he will choose to go to bed with her. This choice of C, though irrational (at least from the expected welfare point of view), is far from atypical. Rather, I am confident that it applies to at least 70% of adult males (the present writer included).

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Happiness, Life Satisfaction, or Subjective Well Being?’

David Myers

Why do we fear the wrong things? Why do so many smokers (whose habit shortens their lives, on average, by about five years) fret before flying (which, averaged across people, shortens life by one day)?

David Myers, ‘Do We Fear the Right Things?’