Why Even the Smartest People Fail at Reason


Being reasonable isn’t easy. Heck, for all our intelligence, it doesn’t even come natural, as more and more studies are demonstrating:

One provocative hypothesis is that the bias blind spot arises because of a mismatch between how we evaluate others and how we evaluate ourselves. When considering the irrational choices of a stranger, for instance, we are forced to rely on behavioral information; we see their biases from the outside, which allows us to glimpse their systematic thinking errors. However, when assessing our own bad choices, we tend to engage in elaborate introspection. We scrutinize our motivations and search for relevant reasons; we lament our mistakes to therapists and ruminate on the beliefs that led us astray.

The problem with this introspective approach is that the driving forces behind biases—the root causes of our irrationality—are largely unconscious, which means they remain invisible to self-analysis and impermeable to intelligence. In fact, introspection can actually compound the error, blinding us to those primal processes responsible for many of our everyday failings. We spin eloquent stories, but these stories miss the point. The more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.

I think this ultimately (and obviously) validates the importance of engaging in dialogue with others and leaving yourself open to criticism.

But then again, our own biases make it hard to accept criticism of our deeply held beliefs, which is where science, reason, and other methodologies come into play. Yet even these can be misused or misunderstood.

So basically, trying to figure out the world and what is true is very, very hard and constant vigilance…go figure.

One comment on “Why Even the Smartest People Fail at Reason

  1. Critisim is difficult to take and we are sometimes are own worst critics. Dialog today, it isn’t always civil and thus becoming more difficult to engage in. Self-analysis, do any of us do this with any degree of honestly, I wonder.

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