Reason and Intuition

Chapter 3: The art of the kluge: On the haphazard construction of the mind

This chapter expands on the notion of the mind and rational thought as an exaptation. “The ability of our brains to sustain rational thought is an example of what evolutionary theorists refer to as exaptation—where something that evolved in order to serve one purpose gets co-opted to perform some other” (Kindle Locations 979-980). This is meant as an explanation for why rational thought is so difficult and frequently exercised so poorly. The author again notes that rational thought is unnatural, meaning, as far as I understand it, it is difficult and takes a conscious effort. It is not automatic.

“Human reason has a lot in common with a helicopter built from car parts” (Kindle Locations 984-985).  The piecemeal approach to the development of the mind has resulted in a less than efficient faculty, even though it ‘works’. Part of the difficulty with reason is related to memory deficiencies. We have learned to compensate:

“The peculiar genius of the human brain, however, lies not in its onboard computational power, but rather in its ability to colonize elements of its environment, transforming them into working parts of its cognitive (and motivational) system”  (Kindle Locations 1082-1084).

What this all means is that human reasoning is highly dependent on the environment, and it is not a factor of individual cognition such as we are are often led to believe. This is rather revolutionary, as it places the onus for rational thought on the collective as much if not more than on the individual.

What of intuition? Well, we tend to think of it as unreliable, but that is not necessarily the case. A good deal of our decision making comes through unconscious process or intuition. We have learned to make our way in the world in conjunction with the vast cues and accumulated wisdom of others. This idea “is well summarized in G. W. F. Hegel’s powerful yet opaque pronouncement that “the real is rational.” What Hegel meant was that if you look hard enough, you will find that there is usually a reason for the way that things are, even when the way that things are seems to make no sense” (Kindle Locations 1311-1313).

The bottom line of this chapter is that we should not be so quick to privilege reason over intuition as reason is exceptionally faulty and frequently in need of repair. Intuition is generally a product of wisdom developed throughout evolutionary history. This of course doesn’t necessarily mean that intuitions are always reliable either, as we will see in the next chapter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: