Are All Intelligent People Rational?

In a crime scene investigators observe certain signs which other people ignore. Recently I saw a movie in which a police man observes certain tell tale evidences which were left out in the usual scrutiny. Even in the good old Sherlock Holmes stories, the clues are there for the smart agent to decipher the enigma as to who really committed the crime. Your whole thinking process need to be attuned to observe the things that are not very apparent and then you are able to tie up the loose ends and make some conclusions. Let us first try to understand the reasoning process. Psychologists recognize two forms of reasoning: induction and abduction.

Induction

In induction your mind relies on some kind of statistics and you make conclusions on that basis. For instance if an Afgan national is arrested in your city, you simply make a conclusion that he must be a spy or secret agent.
It is merely a statistical reasoning, in which your mind’s internal stored up data accepts the likely conclusion to be true, even though it could still be false. He might have actually come here simply to attend his friend’s marriage and socialize.

Fugu is a poisonous fish, a virtual swimming thing more dangerous than cyanide; hundreds of people have died in Japan having eaten this fish. Your rational mind would say ‘I opt out- never would I want to taste that fish who ever certifies it as safe!’ . This has actually happened to many Indians visiting Japan.

Fugu is an expensive delicacy in Japan and the restaurants that serve it are among the top-mast in the country. In Miura-san’s establishment, for instance, a meal starts at $120 per head. People are willing to pay for the assurance of the Fugu chef and the license displayed prominently on his wall. It is rational to taste that fish, but we do not accept that.

Abduction

Someone gets a fair idea as to how to explain some intricate data in terms of a hypothesis that mentions phenomena that have not been apparent in the data itself. This is called abduction. A familiar example is that of the detective we discussed earlier, who infers the identity of a certain criminal correlating certain information with the evidence at the scene of the crime. This is called abduction, or “inference to the best explanation.” Abduction is also exercised by juries when they pronounce whether the prosecution has established the guilt of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt.

Scientists and inventors make use of such a faculty to make proper reasoning that enable themselves to sweep themselves into certain logical conclusions as did great Isaac Newton in those days. It dawned in his fertile mind that the theory of gravitation can also explain the rotation of planets, and the occurrence of tides.

Reasoning process

This reasoning process make use of observations and facts that have been assimilated and examined, as well as any assumptions that can be made, to enable a final decision.

This thinking process can apply to anything as intricate as organizing a mass scale air strike over the enemy country, the tricky landing of a faulty aircraft in rough weather or a simple thing as organizing a political rally.

Rational thinking is the corner stone in developing a healthy mind. It enables us to remove the haze of indecision and the need to toy with views that could conflict with our behavior. Stuart Sutherland, Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex has gone in depth into the mechanisms of irrationality in the light of a prolonged psychological research.

Indecisive parachutist

“Jumping to a Conclusion” is a common phenomenon among people .People do take decisions without taking the time to think things over and analyze. On the other hand, we also know people who analyze, rethink, ponder and carry this process to an extremity resulting in pandemonium. You can’t bathe a child so long to its death. You should in short know when to stop that analysis and act within reasonable time. The pilot in the cockpit in an emergency situation does exactly that.

Inept human brain.

It has been found that human brain can hold only a handful of information in the mind at a given time. When in a complex or disastrous situation brain may not gear up in full potential or desired capacity .The decision maker must use basic principles of decision theory if he is to arrive at an optimal solution. You need to list the pros and cons. The probability of reaching a rational decision can be enhanced by using advanced computers and techniques in complex cases, provided you have enough time on hand.

Self-deception.

Mental conflict can occur when the beliefs or biases held in our subconscious mind are challenged and contradicted by some fresh evidence and data. We in such an event when our faith foundations are shaken or shattered may switch over to defensive mechanisms like outright denial, rejection, or avoidance.

Think out of the Box

Rational thinking is the ability to think out of the box. It is the ability to think analytically and critically, to evolve sound thinking to arrive at a rational decision. But then why our rulers and decision makers are unable to arrive at qualitative decisions in the matters of public administration? Why our roads are faulty, why our garbage is posing problems. Why can’t we meet our demands for good drinking water?
In the modern times we live, we have the latest information on anything in the world enabling and empowering decision makers. Knowledge and technology are on fingertips and yet they cannot bring qualitative improvement in thinking and improve the quality of life.

Who are rational thinkers?

Rational thinkers are the ones who question everything before accepting things meekly. They frequently ask the “why” question to themselves and others.

Some of our successful political leaders, planners and administrators have proven their worth. They have established that they can think differently and rationally to arrive at sound conclusions. They have become pathbrakers. Whenever encountered with national as well as international issues they stood up to face them and solve and that is the reason they are well acclaimed and appreciated. Irrespective of party banners you can find them standing apart in that big crowd of irrelevant leaders.

Are all intelligent people rational?

Is intelligence a guarantee for being rational? A big ‘No’ is the answer. Researchers have time and again established that these are distinct capabilities and cognitive attributes.

Kahneman and Tversky experiments

Psychologists like Kahneman conducted a series of experiments proving beyond doubt that even highly intelligent people, are prone to irrationality. In a set of variable contexts, people tend to make decisions based on intuition rather than proper reasoning.
In one study, they kept a personality sketch of a lady and the participants evaluated character sketch in a manner consistent with their own biases and beliefs. Humans are fundamentally irrational because of their faulty subconscious data base.
Psychologist Keith Stanovich conducted further studies and confirmed that some people are highly rational. In other words, there are individual gradations in rationality.

Rationality Quotient: RQ

Based on this evidence, Professor Stanovich team introduced the concept of the rationality quotient, or R.Q. It would measure the propensity for reflective thought — stepping back from your own thinking and correcting its faulty tendencies. There is also evidence that rationality, unlike intelligence, can be improved through training.

Psychologist Morewedge developed a test to assess people’s susceptibility to various decision-making biases. Some of the participants watched a video about decision-making bias, while others played an interactive computer game designed to decrease bias via simulations of real-world decision making.

Computer training led to statistically large and enduring decrease in decision-making bias and proved it may well be possible to train people to be more rational in their decision making.

We would anyway never find a country full of rational people; remember what we saw earlier, man is basically irrational. But we do need to develop this potential in our leaders offering training packages, making use of the modern psychological tools we today have. This would result into a significant impact in the decision making process and capacity bringing abundant dividends for one and all.


About the Author

Jose Vazhuthanapilly, BSc., LLB, DBM, CAIIB Retired in 2008 as AGM from State Bank of India. He had worked as a visiting faculty in the Bank’s Staff Training Centers for 5 years. He is a writer with 20 books to his credit including books on self-help / psychology. He resides in Ernakulam, Kochi. He is active also in social service. He can be contacted at josevazhuthanapilly@gmail.com

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