Imagine that doctors claim that hands were made for walking, and that everybody should be taught that for a better quality of life.
You may object and suggest that we have evolved to walk upright on our feet. But determining how evolution influences us today is not easy. Tracing evolution backwards is a process filled with difficulties. Often it is assumed that our brain has not evolved and changed. It is also difficult to imagine what life was like thousands of years ago. Moreover, cultural differences also needs to be taken into account.
According to some scientists, from an evolutionary perspective we are taught the wrong things about reasoning. The attention has been on avoiding flaws, lack of logic and biases. Yet all attempts to teach us about ways to improve our flawed reasoning have failed because reasoning is evolutionary not designed for finding the truth. Reasoning evolved, at least partly, to help us win arguments. Our flawed and biased reasoning does what it is evolutionary supposed to do – improve our chances of winning an argument. (For research related to flaws in our thinking see foe example, Tversky and Kahneman)
Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier who are behind the idea of the “argumentative theory of reasoning”, suggest that that human reasoning evolved to improve communication by allowing people to debate with each other. This is a shift from the individual perspective upon reasoning. The prevalent view has been that reasoning helps us make better decisions and to plan ahead. Sperber and Mercer highlight that arguing is not only about trying to convince other people – it is vital to listen to the other persons’ arguments. Argumentation allows people to share the most important aspects of their views. Sperber and Mercer suggest that we are better off reasoning with people who disagree with us rather than like minded people of on our own.
In the context of an exercise in Thinkibility, we would put forward another hypothesis. “Bad” thinking evolved in humankind to support survival. It could be a strategy of the brain to adapt to ever-changing conditions.
Someone who is every time right does not learn alternative behaviours. If circumstances change, he cannot adapt and will as a result die. Extinction by flawless thinking!
The mechanism is something like the librarian, who every time he is asked for a book, pulls at least three incorrect index cards from the library’s inventory box. But because she makes that fault every time she is consulted, she knows the library book inventory very well. The librarian beats the computer system, which is always perfectly exact, unless the client comes with a vague description about the book he wants. The “flawed librarian” knows where it is.
To take the hypothesis even further, it is said that 20–25 % of adults per year are affected by mental illness. Could mental illness, in this content, have an evolutionary necessity? Could we imagine circumstances when it is perfect rational to have some mental illness as defined in DSM?
Another shortcoming of rational thinking is the alleged negative influence of emotions. Many philosophies consider emotions as disruptive to the inner life and hamper the human coexistence in general. Here is again the presumption that thinking should be aimed at accuracy and completeness. However, if emotion is evolutionary designed to distort logical thinking processes, what function could it have? What would happen as we reject categorically the view that emotions are dysfunctional in thinking, or that its functionality survived because of its qualities other than thinking?
Can you think any other reasons why “bad” thinking may have evolved in humankind?
Go here to read the article Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth.
Photo: “My Or Your Way Keys” by Stuart Miles