Wednesday, August 26, 2009

People Are Strange

Yet more evidence that basic psychology ought to be a required school subject. Human beings - self-styled wise men, homo sapiens - even those among us who pride themselves on rationality and consider it the foundation of their worldview - are highly prone to bias, circular reasoning, wishful thinking, and other cognitive errors. If people were taught this as part of a standard education, some - not all, but some - might be more inclined to think critically about their own beliefs, to listen in better faith to and learn from the arguments of those who disagree with them, and more readily revise their opinions in light of evidence and experience. This would, I think, make the world a better place. Whether consciously or not, pride, egotism, and emotional attachment are generally more than a match for rigorous logic when it comes to determining our beliefs, and it seems to me that until this fact is widely acknowledged and accepted, it will be impossible to solve our most vexing problems as a species.

I am trying to do my part. I don't claim by any stretch of the imagination to be a perfectly rational person myself - but part of what gives me some degree of confidence in the beliefs I have formed is that as a committed skeptic of my own rationality I have subjected them to as much scrutiny as I can muster. In my view accepting the limits of one's own rationality, and acknowledging the possibility of one's own possible errors in reasoning, are vital parts of being a responsible moral agent. Psychology helps us do these things, which is why it ought to be studied more widely.

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