Active Thinking Topic 56   When Is Reason Not Rational?

Saturday 29 April 2023, 1:30 to 3:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Zoom online

Note that this topic is also running live on Wednesday 26 April 2023, 6:30 pm at The Elephant British Pub, Adelaide CBD. In that venue it will be a topic for Adelaide Shallow Thinkers (  ). Register separately for this. Shallow Thinkers topics are for free conversation. They do not have talking points or a reading list in the 'comments' section] .

Talking Points:

1. Reason is the process of reducing randomness within a boundary. Think of reasons, then think of boundaries, and suggest some situations where it all goes wrong .. .

2. Reason, applied in certain controlled ways called scientific method, has given us the industrial revolution and the modern world. What exactly is scientific method?

3. Extremists may often seem batshit crazy to most of us, but their attitudes and actions are frequently calculated with great precision according to their own logic. What are some typical properties and causes of their mindset? How would you try to 'reeducate' such a person if that effort is worthwhile?

4. What parts of your life do you prefer to be a bit 'irrational' about? When and why?

5. What are some examples where there is profit or benefit in appearing to be irrational? How would you yourself manage situations like that?

6. Educational institutions at every level claim that their priority is the successful education of students. If that is true, the behaviour of these institutions, or at least their leaders, frequently seems to be irrational. What is going on with this? Explain some actual examples.

7. Money is sometimes said to be evil. However when people believe in the value of money it can unite them in a common cause which they find entirely rational - e.g. an enterprise, a war, even a job. When does this kind of rationality break down? Why?

8. The followers of religions and ideologies may claim that a) the religion or ideology itself is based on rational order, and/or b) their own practice and/or belief in a religion or ideology is perfectly rational. What are some of the arguments they use?

9. There is a rumour that love is 'blind' - that it takes no account of reason. How often is that true? What's the evidence? (I, Thor, have difficulty with this, having apparently been immune to love).

10. Are generative AI programs like Chat GPT just reasoning machines, or do they use something else besides?

Extra Reading

Chad E. Brack (November 18, 2018) "Defining Rationality: Are Humans Irrational?". Chad E Brack blog @  [Quote: "I think we, as humans, are almost always rational. In fact, we are overly rational; we just aren’t very good at arriving at correct views most of the time. What I mean is that we tend to rationalize nearly all of our beliefs, decisions, etc. Even if we don’t understand what we’re doing or why we’re doing something, we create reasons to sort of talk ourselves into believing that we have good reasons or evidence for our beliefs."]

Paul Broks (13 April 2023) "Are coincidences real? - The rationalist in me knows that coincidences are inevitable, mundane, meaningless. But I can’t deny there is something strange and magical in them, too". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: This is a long article to read, but quite interesting   ]

Nick Earls (17 August 2021) "I went looking for ordinary coincidence in the world, but what I found was extraordinary - How many everyday wonders do we miss because we’ve blinded ourselves to the inevitability of chance?". The Guardian @ 

Dan Kahan (July 15, 2014) ""Bounded rationality": the Grigori Rasputin of explanations for public perceptions of climate change risk - Is identity-protective cognition irrational?
The idea that “disbelief” in global warming is attributable to low “science literacy” is not the only explanation for public conflict over climate change that fails to survive an encounter with actual evidence. The same is true for the proposition that such controversy is a consequence of “bounded rationality.” Cultural Cognition blog @ 

Michael Marshall (Wed 2 May 2018) "The universe is an egg and the moon isn't real: notes from a Flat Earth conference. Michael Marshall attended the UK’s annual gathering of people who share the unshakeable belief that the Earth is flat." The Guardian @ 

Anonymous (May 2018) "The Pygmalion Effect: Proving Them Right - The Pygmalion Effect is a powerful secret weapon. Without even realizing it, we can nudge others towards success. In this article, discover how expectations can influence performance for better or worse". Farnam Street Media Inc. FS blog @ 

Thor May (2015) "The peculiar interest of god(s) in human morality - For the ungodly, even as they dodge being stoned to death for apostasy or atheism, it is a perpetual puzzle why any god, mere mountain spirit or kitchen god, or a thundering master of the universe, would give a damn what humans do". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor May (2014) "Does religion emerge as a product of complex systems? - Why do people take up religions, persist with them, and abandon them ? Whatever you think of religions personally, or any particular religion, they seem to have been around forever amongst (most) humans, and seem unlikely to go away entirely amongst the species as a whole". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor May (2014) "Some Uses and Misuses of Reason - When the sun rises each morning we may say the reason is that the earth on its elliptical orbit spins so that one point faces that star. Or we may say that the Sun God has mounted his chariot. Or we may say, after Ptolemy and the Christian elders until a few centuries ago, that the sun is moving around the earth. Take your pick. They have all seemed good reasons from reasonable men in their time. Our acceptance of what passes for reasoned argument has a great deal to do with the company we keep". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 


When Is Reason Not Rational?  (c) Thor May 2023

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