Note: This essay is still in the draft mode! Watch for changes.
[This essay is written to provide further support to my essays on "common sense" and "rationality". While it is about a subject for which I do not claim to have a formal background, the discussion will serve to help you and I to understand better what I think the "rational mind" is about. The basis for the claims here are mostly personal observations of both animals and humans and much conjecturing. Additional supportive material comes from the references which I have identified so that you may pursue the subject further.]
It is of itself that the divine thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of things), and its thinking is a thinking on thinking.
-- Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)
In my online essay on Social Behavior, I start with the following statement:
Maxim #1: Individuals tend to do the things they are rewarded for doing and tend to avoid the things they are punished for doing.
Further elaboration on that simple maxim is what this essay is about.
Unlike computers, animals -- especially humans -- are not controlled directly by specific commands resulting from stimuli. Computers and other "intelligent" control systems take a specific action based on the inputs received. Consider a thermostat that turns on the air conditioner. When the temperature reaches the value set in the thermostat, the A/C system comes on. It does not "cogitate" whatsoever on what to do.
While thermostats and amoebae are directly controlled by stimuli, higher order animals may not respond directly to external stimuli, but instead, will take the stimuli into consideration along with other inputs, mental states, and memorized data, and then make a decision as to what action to take, if any.
Let us go through an example before we jump into the details. Let's say you are having a cookout featuring some nice thick grilled steaks. But just after you put the steaks on the patio picnic table and before the others have joined you, you are called inside to answer the phone. Your dog promptly drags one of the steaks off the table and starts to eat it. You discover the dog devouring the steak and let him know by strong words and a threat of possibly action that grabbing food off the table is a very big "no-no".
If this happens again and the dog is again reprimanded, it will likely store in its conscience that, as much fun as stealing food off the table is, it has punishment associated with it that makes the action not good on balance. Particularly if someone is looking.
So, what goes on in the mind of the dog if these circumstances happen again and the smell of a juicy steak is in the air. Well, he doesn't automatically grab the steak like the thermostat automatically turns on the air conditioner. Instead the stimuli goes into the dog's "processor" -- his brain -- where it is combined with other stored data and other immediate external stimuli (like is there anyone watching right now?). The process results in a decision to steal or not to steal the steak.
We humans process external stimuli the same way, only more so. Most external stimuli we receive are processed heavily and with great complexity before we make a final decision (see the online paper by Tooby and Cosmide, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer"). And that is quite different from the way computers and automatic devices work as I will try to make clear in this essay.
The most merciful thing in the world ... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
-- H. P. Lovecraft
Now let us go into detail on the mental process of living things and how it responds to external stimuli.
Automatons (computers, thermostats, servo mechanisms, etc.) generally react directly to stimuli. That is they are programmed to take a certain action based on their state and the receipt of certain inputs. Even if there is a so-called decision point, and programs certainly use many, it is not like the decisions that higher order animals make. In fact computer program "decisions" are not decisions at all. The code is usually something like "If A is true then go to path-a, if not then go to path-b". Now, at the instant the computer reaches this "decision" point, either A is true or not, so no real decision is made. At least not a "freewill"[Note 1] decision like we humans make.
Living things make decisions considerably different than automatons, particularly the higher order animals. Let us look at each major class individually.
Plants and LOA do make complex decisions but fundamentally the decisions are not any different than the computer. Basically, plants and LOA consider many factors in their decisions (which is also true for computers) but nevertheless, the decision is -- as far as we know -- deterministic. There is no "freewill".[Note 1]
Since humans are an excellent example of HOA, let us begin with them. How do we humans respond to stimuli? Well, first off, be forewarned the answer is not clear. I will give you my opinion as to how I think the system works. Before you go off to other sources with the parting remark that "This guy does not know what he is talking about", let me advise you that neither does anyone else! The issues over "what does consciousness mean", "is there such a thing as freewill", "is there such a thing as mind", "is there any real difference between emotional and cognitive processes?", and etc., have been discussed by philosophers and scientists for a long time and no resolution is in sight! So, an opinion is all you will get anywhere, though I will acknowledge that some opinions are worth more than others.
Then let us accept that humans and other HOAs do have a choice of action when stimuli are received. There are further complications involved which I will discuss later, but for now let us just say that the mind of the HOA will take the received stimuli, combine it with what it knows from memory, combine it with all other inputs from the present environment, make a projection of what may happen in the future, take into account miscellaneous other factors, and then make a decision. Since the HOA mind is assumed to have freewill, after all this cogitation it may even override the decision by deciding to be contrary and do just the opposite! We certainly are capable of that, or so it appears (See Parfit's book listed in the References about the rationality of sometimes being irrational!)
Actually the minds of HOAs respond to stimuli in three different ways: reflex responses, emotional processes, and cognitive processes. Or so the scientists tell us -- it is my opinion that these three ways are not clearly distinct from each other but each one sort of fades into the other. Still, we make such arbitrary classifications all the time without any serious problems (we talk of "tall" and "short" persons, for example). Even limiting it to three categories is a somewhat arbitrary division. Texts include other types such as unconditioned and conditioned reflex responses and volitional processes. However, I believe that the range of processes are a continuum and that the divisions are arbitrary, so I will proceed with these three major types.
A reflex response is the lowest level of action of the HOAs. Basically, the action requires no thought but happens directly in response to the incoming sensation, an example being the response to the touch of a very hot object. Under normal conditions, our muscles will respond to such an input without any processing whatsoever from the brain. This type of response, of course, is what we would associate with plants and LOAs and is essentially the same. However, as Pavlov showed many years ago, even reflex responses can be modified by certain conditioning. Exactly how this is possible is not clear to this day.
Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies; we could very well have a civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a very poor way if we had only clothes without bodies.
—— Alfred North Whitehead
The next level up in animal actions are the emotional processes (which I will refer to as the "Low Level Processor"). The word "emotion" covers a lot of territory and does not have a universally accepted definition. For our purposes here, I will just say it is a higher level action that ordinarily receives stimuli, processes it with some level of mental activity, and then creates an action or feeling. At this level is where I would include most so-called "instincts".
Emotional responses then are in the gray area between reflexive and cognitive responses. Let us look at an example. First, we have the sensory inputs, for example, a light wave striking the eyes. The frequency of the light waves evokes a response from the eyes which is sent to the brain where it is processed and "translated" into a color. So, some processing is involved even at this point. The color itself may evoke a higher order emotional response as a result of further processing. Some colors are pleasant to some people and others are not.
Consider the smell of food. This may evoke the emotion of hunger or revulsion depending on the mental processing the input receives.
This level of mental processing should not be minimized with respect to its importance and complexity. I quote from the essay by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer":
But our natural competences -- our abilities to see, to speak, to find someone beautiful, to reciprocate a favor, to fear disease, to fall in love, to initiate an attack, to experience moral outrage, to navigate a landscape, and myriad others -- are possible only because there is a vast and heterogeneous array of complex computational machinery supporting and regulating these activities.and,
Consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg; most of what goes on in your mind is hidden from you. As a result, your conscious experience can mislead you into thinking that our circuitry is simpler that it really is. Most problems that you experience as easy to solve are very difficult to solve -- they require very complicated neural circuitry
A desire presupposes the possibility of action to achieve it; action presupposes a goal which is worth achieving.
—— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957
At the cognitive level, full mental processes are invoked in making a decision. For HOA, our more complex actions are usually the result of some cognitive processing. This level of processing I will call the "Cognitive Processor" or "High Level Processor".
As I will discuss below, even many of our low level feelings and emotions are modified by our cognitive processor before an action is taken.
In Figure 1, I have sketched a rough diagram of how the mind of the HOA might work. Several caveats are in order. First off, the mind is not likely broken into blocks like the drawing would suggest but instead seems to be a continuous and overlapping in function. That is, the lower level processor, the cognitive processor, the memory, and much more are really quite blended with each other unlike the computers we humans build which are composed of discrete sections. Nevertheless, it is useful to break the mind into components to further the process of understanding it.
Further, I have only indicated the major flows while in reality there are many interactive processes going on. The emotion thing is particularly difficult to diagram because there is so much interaction with practically all parts of the mental processor. It is important to also understand that it is not just data that flows between the elements of the brain, but also control functions.
The three inputs on the left represent all the senses; vision, hearing, touch, etc.. The "low-level processor" receives these sensations and acts upon them, either by reflex action or by providing a sensation or feeling to the "cognitive processor", or both. Of importance here is that the "cognitive processor" receives only a sensation -- not an order to do something. The sensation is interpreted by our system as a perception: pain or pleasure, a comfortable feeling or an uncomfortable feeling. Hunger, pain, pleasure, fear, etc., are just perceptions which the cognitive processor may act on, in various ways, or do nothing at all. For example, the pill that my doctor gives me for my high blood pressure may taste awful but I will take it anyway. That is, the "cognitive processor" overrides the perception of the "low-level processor" that this pill is probably bad for me (it tastes "bitter").
Nevertheless, responses are sometimes generated directly by the "Low Level Processor" with little or no processing by the "Cognitive Processor" -- the so-called "visceral reactions". We may overeat or smoke cigarettes or "lose our tempers", in spite of the fact that our "Cognitive Processor" is saying "don't do it!". The line going from the "Low Level Processor" to "Responses" represents this fact.
The block called "environment" represents all the external inputs that affect the operation of the two stages of processing. Obviously, drugs and alcohol impact the performance of these processors. Lumped with these obvious factors are other environmental factors such as noise, room temperature, the mood of the individual, and everything else that is going on around the individual at that instant and some period before. It should be noted that not only are the processors affected, but also the connections between the processors -- the flow of data.
The memory block is shown with two major components, experience and memes (memes are roughly beliefs -- see "Common Sense"), both of which are memory but categorized and simplified for our convenience in understanding. The "Cognitive Processor" will check with memory before making a decision on any action. For example, a desire for sexual activity might be received by the "Cognitive Processor" from "Low Level Processor" as a result of some sexy person showing too much skin, or something like that. But before an action is taken, i.e. rape, the "Cognitive Processor" says, "Hmm, experience, memes, and other stored knowledge tells me that this is generally not a good idea so I think I will have to veto that idea for the moment".
Finally notice the backward connection from the "Cognitive Processor" to the "Low Level Processor". This represents the fact that our emotional responses are modified somewhat by our state of mind. How much pain we feel, how much pleasure we feel, how much sexual desire, etc., are all impacted by other factors that the "Cognitive Processor" is aware of. For example, whether a dish of snails creates intense desire to eat or an intense desire to vomit depends on prior conditioning that the "Cognitive Processor" has received -- memes, experiences, etc.
At this point we should reflect on how genes and memes fit into the big picture. Our genes establish the specific design of the mind for each individual and the sensations that individual gets out of the "Low Level Processor", both in number and intensity. I may feel more pain from a smashed thumb than you do; I may have greater sexual arousal for the same circumstances than the average young male, I may have a greater hunger for food, etc. So the signals passed to the "Cognitive Processor" are determined by the genes. The action taken by the "Cognitive Processor", on the other hand, are greatly influenced by the memes. Therein, of course, is the source of many of our problems (and solutions).
Now, given this, I think it will be easier to understand how it is we can have what is commonly referred to as "freewill".
Free Will, rightly understood, means that we are not necessarily the slaves of our immediate appetites, but are free to make the choice among alternatives of conduct that we consider most rational. We are free to choose our ends. We are free, within limits, to choose what we consider to be the most appropriate means to our ends.
—— Henry Hazlitt, Free Will and Determinism
It is very important that we understand that HOAs are fundamentally organized in a very different way than are automatons and very low level plants and animals. That is, we HOA are never made to do anything directly but are only provided with a perception, an emotion or a feeling. What we do in response to that perception or emotion is determined by a cognitive process. If we are offered food, freedom, sex, or life, we have to mentally chose what action to take. I will call that "freewill" for lack of a better term while realizing that there are unresolved philosophical issues with regard to that concept also.[Note 2]
Example: You are hungry and broke. You come upon a sidewalk delicatessen with lots of good fruit, cheeses, wine, sausages, etc. sitting out in the open. You notice that the proprietor is totally distracted by what appears to be a serious phone call. You could grab some food and walk away, probably undetected. What are the processes going on:
Let us go through the cognitive "freewill" process step by step.
The physical body receives external stimuli through the senses -- hearing, seeing, feeling, etc. Signals representing these stimuli are transmitted to the brain where they are processed and converted to sensations. The sensations are not exact representations of the stimuli but have had "enhancements" added. Pain may feel worse or pleasure may feel better depending on your prior conditioning and other inputs from the present environment.
At this point we should note that output from the "pleasure/pain enhancer" processor is possible without external stimuli. Your own imagination can supply the signals for the processor to cause you to feel pleasure or pain.
The result from this processing is some sort of sensation, a feeling of some sort. We know that pain hurts and that pleasure feels good but it is not obvious what that means. To see what I mean, try to imagine how you would program a computer or automaton to "feel" pain or pleasure. Certainly we can create the signals but how do you create a "feeling"? I suppose it is simply a propensity to act in a certain way. For example the sensation of hunger is creating a "pressure" to try to obtain food. In us, it is an uncomfortable feeling -- in a computer it would just be an increased emphasis for the "get food" task to take action. It would be given higher priority amongst a multitude of tasks.
Again, it is important to note that pain/pleasure signals are just signals (next time you get a sprained ankle, remember that the "pain" you feel is just a signal and could simply be acknowledged by your brain as "Yeah, ankle, I hear you loud and clear and I will do what I can when I can -- now shutup!"). Since we have freewill, we may or may not take action, as we see fit.
The fact that we do not have to directly respond to these signals but can bring in our cognitive processes to mull over and evaluate what should be done depending on the present external and internal environment (memes and such), past history, and future expectations, is a powerful enhancement to our chances of survival and further evolution. If we were automatons or primitive living things, we would be at the mercy of the environment. If the environment changes significally, we would very well die. But having this powerful freewill allows us to rapidly change to whatever the environment presents to us.
But there could be a downside too. In many cases, it could be that this processing will result in our taking an action that is inferior to a direct response. A good example is the strange case of people dying of anorexia (e.g., Karen Carpenter). And as I have written considerably about elsewhere, memes -- which are a powerful component of this processing -- are often very detrimental and are under the control of others who may not have our best interests in mind.
Let us look at other ramifications.
I have no idea what the mind of a low-life scoundrel is like, but I know what the mind of an honest man is like; it is terrifying.
-- Abel Hermant, Le Bourgeois, 1906
The "buffered" system of response to stimuli that I have described for HOA has many advantages over the simple system used by LOA. Instead of a mindless response to stimuli, like a thermostat would make, the "Cognitive Processor" of the HOA is not told what to do but is only sent a signal of pleasure or pain and it is up to the "Cognitive Processor" to decide what to do about it. This additional flexibility is essential to survival in a changing environment.
And that was always a great advantage until recently (on the evolutionary time scale). Now, there may be serious and disastrous consequences for the highest level of the HOAs, i.e., humans. This possible disastrous situation has come about because we no longer do what nature intended for us to do when it sends us the pleasure/pain signals and our cognitive based response may be too far afield based on the memes in our memory.
Let us look as some examples of where nature's way is failing.
Looking over the edge of building creates fear, but driving 70 mph down the road does not. Suddenly finding a snake in your path instinctively creates fear, but a hand-grenade does not.
Facial expressions are no longer meaningful. Humans and other HOA have developed a wide range of recognition and interpretation of facial expressions. Our internal processors have genetically developed responses to various expressions -- anger, sympathy, friendliness, fear, sexual, etc. But in modern times, with the increase in knowledge, we have found that these expressions can be faked. Politicians, automobile sales staff, and some preachers make much of this!
Advertising schemes take advantage of every gene or meme based emotion we have. For example, almost every ad uses the principle, "show the sizzle, not the steak". Examples are, seed packets that show the full grown flower in bloom, not the seeds inside; frozen food packages that show the cooked food rather than the actual contents, etc. Many ads also include unrelated material, such as a sexy girl, to just get your interest.
Nature (or God, if you wish) has provided us with strong sexual emotions. These emotions create a strong feeling or pressure to find relief and that relief seems to satisfactorily come from having intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. Now, of course, this feeling was added to our repertoire of feelings to trick us into sexual reproduction.
We are not forced to reproduce. Instead we are rewarded for having sex in that it is intensely pleasurable. This turns out to be a very effective incentive for people to have sex which often results in pregnancy when the situation is such that a pregnancy makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, since reproduction is in general very difficult, painful, and tiresome, we would have become extinct long ago if we were not deceived into having sex by the pleasure principle.
This powerful lust and the wonderful feeling obtained in satisfying it, then, has one purpose: propagation of the species. While poets and some philosophers have tried to make it appear that the feelings exist for their own purpose, that is simply not the case. Just as the hunger feeling "pressures" us into eating, without which we would likely let ourselves starve, sexual feelings pressure us into participating in sexual reproductive activity.
But the purpose of those sexual feelings can be and have been thwarted. We now have lots of sex and there is little reproduction (A similar thing has happened with hunger and food -- we can now have the pleasure of eating potato chips and satisfying our need for fat, when the chips don't actually contain any fat!).
Of course, in these modern times, we have found ways to get the pleasure and to thwart the reproduction -- i.e., birth control. The impact of this may be very bad. While the long range ramifications are not known, there are some things that we can see now that are not good. Effectively, birth control thwarts the evolutionary plan. While educated and sophisticated individuals can now have sex without the consequences of reproduction, the ignorant and uninformed, are not able to (there is also a cost associated with birth control that they may not can afford). So the selection of the finest and the fittest is probably not happening for humans at this time.
Other ramifications are that humans can now enjoy more variation in sexual activity. For if sexual pleasure is divorced from sexual reproduction, then there is no particular reason to limit sexual activity to the traditional involvement of a male and a female. Humans have discovered that if the reproduction is not the goal, then sex between those of the same sex should be just fine as long as it is pleasurable. And apparently it is for the activity has become very popular.
Is all this good or bad? The answer that depends on your cache of memes! Many people, especially female people, think it is great because of the avoidance of the huge burden associated with bringing another child in the world. Many others, based on religious beliefs, think that there are moral issues involved.
From a neutral view (well, I try), I would say that on the plus side the thwarting of the end purpose of sexual activity has certainly increased the amount of pleasurable activity in the world, which would seem to be good. On the negative side, I suppose, it has created a greater emphasis on sexual activity, much of which is very unhealthy. Beyond that, I think I will avoid any further comments!
Politicians and other hustlers will take advantage of the human response to "nice looking, honest looking persons". Our genes cause us to put great store in the appearance of another person, especially their face and their eyes. Since this capability came about by evolution, we have to assume that there is some merit to it and that it surely had predictive value in the past.
Now, it is obvious that at least some people have developed skills such that their appearance is definitely not an indication of what kind of person he or she is. Now, of course, there has always been some individuals who could "fake sincerity". However, in the past we lived in small groups and these individuals would usually be found out. That is not true today. When the "snake-oil" salesman appears on TV with a face of the most sincere honesty, millions of people are deceived and there is no way to find our the salesman's character.
We get a good feeling if we think someone likes us and will do things for us. They take advantage of this.
One of the most puzzling aspects of humans is the ill advised trust in other people, especially con artists and politicians. Is there a genetic reason behind this. I think so.
Most likely in times past, people in small communities trusted their leaders, priests, witch-doctors, whatever. There are a couple of reasons for this: first, they were in small groups and if the leader turned out to have bogus qualifications, they could get rid of him relatively easy. Second, they were no doubt deceived on many things. Since most people were ignorant and uneducated, deceiving them was probably easier than it is today. With a little skill, it would be fairly easy for a leader to take the credit for good weather and winnings in battle.
In any case, there appears to be a strong genetically based bias to trust your fellow humans. And that is in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The best example is the fact that politicians promise the same things every election cycle, for which they don't deliver, but the populace never seems to remember.
So, what has all of this to do with rationality? To answer that, we should first try to figure out what the meaning of "rationality" is. There are just about as many definitions of "rationality" as there are philosophers and political economists! The most prevalent definition seems to be that a rational action is an action that is expected to maximize the actor's utility.[Note 3]
But then we have to understand what maximizing her utility means. We have to assume that this means to maximize the person's pleasure and minimize her pain, in the long run. And that brings us to the heart of this paper, that
people do what is pleasurable and avoid what is painful.
Another popular definition is that rational acts are acts that are good, make sense, and are logical.
One dilemma that raises its head in the definition of rationality is the issue of a person acting "rationally", as defined above, but he or she is acting on bad information (that is the person's on memory of observations may be in error). I discuss this intriguing problem further in my essay, "An Introduction to the Theory of Social Dilemmas".
Basically then, what I believe most of us mean in ordinary conversation when we use the word rational is this:
A rational act is an act that the actor believes will in some way maximize her pleasure or minimize her pain, for the immediate term or the long term, based on her own psychological makeup and what that person knows about the world at that moment in time.
Several terms are used in that definition that need some elaboration. First off, I am using "maximize her pleasure or minimize her pain" instead of maximizing utility, but it means about the same thing. That is, I see no other meaning to "maximizing a persons utility " other than that it means to maximize the persons pleasure and minimize her pain, in the long run. And that brings us to the claim made at the beginning of this paper, that people do what is pleasurable and avoid what is painful. And I am claiming that is rational.
If then, a rational act is one that tends to increase pleasure and reduce pain, then we are both the benefited recipient and the victim of the "pleasure/pain" buffer discussed in some detail above. That means that we may rationally proceed to take such acts that would have increased pleasure when we were still chasing rabbits on the plain but may cause serious harm today.
Another issue that needs clarification is the vague "for the immediate term or the long term".[Note 4] What I am referring to here is the actor's own view of the time in which her utility is to be maximized. That is a complex issue and is probably not very well thought out by the actor. In any case, consistent with my view that rationality should be defined in terms of what the actor's state of mind, knowledge, memory, etc. is, the time of interest here is what the actor sees. It could be short or it could be long, depending on the individual. More than likely, it is weighted, with the immediate future receiving the most weight, at least for most people.
Now to the last clause, "her own psychological makeup and what that person knows about the world at that moment in time". It is my contention that the definition of rationality has to be based on what the actor knows about the world, what her internal make up is, including all or her genetic and memetic influences, her memory of all like things in the past, and etc. You may think that it is irrational for the young man to spend his money on booze and drugs and to consume them, but you know nothing about the demons in his mind that he may be trying to quite (and may have had some success).
But no matter how you define it there will still be questions as to whether we humans are always rational, or even most of the time. See my essay, "Humans are Rational, aren't they?".
A study of the conflicts between the individual and other members of the group that she may belong to reveals that often the individual's self interest and the other member's self interest are at odds with each other. This phenomenon is commonly called a "social dilemma". The claim is made that an individual acting rationally will act in a way that is not in the best interest of that individual or the group, in the long run. The famous "Prisoner's Dilemma" construct illustrates this phenomenon very well.
Some scholars claim that the problem is confusion over what is meant by "rational". This essay makes no attempt to resolve these social dilemmas, instead an attempt is made to further understand what is rational. To do that it is necessary to examine the psychological makeup of higher order animals (HOA), of which humans are a member of -- at least some of us think so.
An extremely important observation is that HOA, unlike primitive animals, plants, and automatons, do not respond directly to stimuli with a fixed response, but instead have a mental process in which the stimuli simply create a feeling, a pressure, a motivation. The cognitive processor, which I call the "High Level Processor", is then fed that "feeling/pressure/motivation" where it is considered along with other factors. The "High Level Processor" then determines what response will be taken, if any.
While this capability is very beneficial in that it allows us to survive in a changing environment, it is nevertheless sometimes detrimental in that it creates emotional difficulties in trying to deal with a mental structure designed for primitive hunter/gatherers on the African plain. Further it is very subject to the sometimes disastrous impact of "memes".
Finally, the claim is made that what is rational to the individual is what that individual thinks will maximize her pleasure and minimize her pain over the short and/or long haul. The point is made that what others may think is rational for an individualis not the issue, but instead what is rational for that individual is based on that individual's world view. If nothing else, this definition points out that when philosophers discuss rationality, they ought to make clear whether they mean rationality from the individual's perspective or from a normative perspective.
I am told that to base rationality on each individual's "world view" opens a "can of worms" that most philosophers would want to avoid, but I see no alternative. For it makes no sense to base my rationality on your "world view" and vice versa.
Note 1. I'm using the term, "freewill", here in a very limited sense. For the purposes of this essay, the term simply represents the process of cognitive decision making.
Note 2. It is beyond the scope of this essay to get into the age old controversy of freewill vs.. determinism. But a few words are in order.
If the world is truly deterministic, wherein every event is a result of "cause and effect", then the discussion in this paper is basically pointless mutterings. If our brain and mind are physical and are bound by the laws of physics as everything else appears to be, then for any situation, the outcome is fixed no matter how complicated the process may appear.
On the other hand, if there is freewill, then we are faced with the issue of believing in "magic", for there is no physical explanation for it. If we admit to magic, then we might as well go all the way and blame the gods for everything and quit wasting time studying science!
Note 3. Some references that elaborate on this issue are: "Rationality and Moral/Political Decision" by Nancy Holmstrom in the book, Rationality in Thought and Action; "Individual Rationality as a Useful Approximation: Comments on Tversky's 'Rational Theory and Constructive Choice'", by Alvin E. Roth at http://kuznets.fas.harvard.edu/~aroth/rational.html; "Rationality and the Emotions" by Jon Elster.
Note 4. I must admit that this is almost as bad as the textbook definitions of "utility" in which they say, "maximize the pleasure for the most people". Now, mathematicians are quick to tell you that you cannot maximize two dependent variables at once, which makes sense to me, but does not seem to register with many social scholars.
Chalmers, David: David Chalmers home page at http://consc.net/chalmers/. Several advanced essays online on the philosophy of mind -- somewhat readable by the lay person.
Diesing, Paul: Reason in Society. University of Illinois Press. 1962.
Einstein, Albert: "Morals and Emotions"
Elster, Jon: "Rationality and the Emotions"
An online PhD dissertation on emotions is available at "The Basic Emotions of Daily Life".
Faris, Ellsworth: The Nature of Human Nature. McGraw-Hill, New York. 1937.
Hofstadter, Douglas R. and Daniel C. Dennett: The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. Basic Books, New York. 1981.
Houston, John P.: Motivation. Macmillan, New York. 1985
McFadden, Daniel: "Rationality for Economists?" online at http://emlab.berkeley.edu/eml/nsf97/mcfadden.pdf.
Parfit, Derek: Reasons and Persons. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1984
Plutowski, Mark E.P., Ph.D.: Emotional Computing: from Reaction to Reason, an online book.
Sztab, Allen: Philosophy for Free. Online book at http://www.fff.co.za/ with considerable material on the workings of the mind.
Wright, Robert: The Moral Animal. Pantheon Books, New York. 1994.Back to "Common Sense">. Back to Rational Life home page.