I think there are indeed perfectly rational reasons for ignoring some information — we’d starve before we’ve worked out what the best possible breakfast is from all possibilities otherwise. (This is also the reason why it is rational to be a satisficer, rather than a maximizer: we need scarce resource to work out what is best, and at some point the marginal benefit of an even better solution does not outweigh the extra calculation.)

There are also good reasons to forget, or ignore certain things we do know. We feel better forgetting our worries while watching an engrossing movie, or not thinking about the crazy things our president is doing etc.

But what is interesting — triggered by your message, BTW — is the fact that we do tend to like clear-cut messages… while still really operating a fuzzy logic system. We generally abhor ambiguity and incompleteness, but at the same time we are totally relaxed about bending ‘rules’, happily admit numerous complex exceptions to them, and are able to hold complex models in mind that do not quite fit the simple expressions we use to communicate (“yeah, but what I really mean is…”)

So we seem to think we want precision and accuracy, but in our actual actions we’re as fuzzy as a very fuzzy thing indeed. The defences of which you speak are, I would say, quite superficial. Any moderately profound discussion will immediately lay bare not just the complexity of our thinking, but also our ability to hold two apparently contradictory thoughts in mind at the same time. When this is exposed we may feel uncomfortable (especially if someone else is doing the exposing, and they are of an opposing opinion!), but that doesn’t diminish the fact itself. We can ‘like’ Taleb because he says clever things, and ‘dislike’ him because he behaves like an asshole (see an earlier piece of mine ICYMI :-)

So I think we are largely (if not entirely) in agreement. But the problem, in practice, is that the intuitive tendencies to hide stuff, because it often reduces the cognitive load or emotional conflict, is not always in our interest. The decision process to do the hiding is automatic, and therefore not ‘rational’ (I deliberately avoid the term ‘irrational’, because that has wholly inappropriate connotations of stupidity — I wish the term ‘arational’, in analogy to ‘amoral’ got some traction). That means we sometimes make wrong decisions, that are not in our interest.

Being aware of this possibility may help us prevent the automatic process taking control.

we do actually have something in common, our first name that is…

Well well…

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Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

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