Reason itself is impotent

Why do people vote against thier best interests? Why does a scientific consensus on global warming fail to evoke political action? These are just some of the questions boggling out brightest minds today. More than 300 years after the dawn of the scientific revolution the impotence of purely literal rationality appears to have hit a wall. In an age when more people have more access to information than ever before, our behaviors appear less rational than ever. The very rationality that delivers smart devices and the internet also brings conspiricy theorists and racist demagogues. Most distrubing of all is that no amount of rationality appears able to sway a large portion of the population. Furthermore, the ideal of a purely rational technocratic society has seemingly overlooked the main component in the system- the human beings running it. Whether it is the humans in the halls of power or those sitting behind a desk, those running startups or the titans of industry, the rational plans of the past have naively avoiding all accounting for human irrationality.

Our current political situation is exactly what you get when you fill a rational system with irrational creatures. In today’s politics, all appeals to reason are drowned out by the loud, obnoxious, incoherent, emotional reactions of people driven by greed, fear, and other unconcious forces. Some of these forces have been developed by advertisers, others by governments, religions, communities and more, but no matter the origin. These irrational ideas and attitudes are the true drivers of behavior and behavioral change. Why else would Senator Inhofe’s presentation of a snowball to the US Congress as Exhibit A for Climate change denial garner anything but hysterical laughter? This appears to illustrate the achilles heel of science: willful ignorance and irrationality. For years, the scientific community has belittled this drive in human beings, viewing it as more or less a backwards, counter evolutionary tendency we would eventually get rid of. But alas, here it is roaring back for vengance, just as reason has proven its impotence.

It is important to remember how human beings process information. It is essential that we come to realize the primacy of the body in mental processes. For too long, we believed that an education simply required literacy- if one could read enough they could absorb enough facts and discover the “correct” thing to do. Alas, this is proving to be a naive belief in itself- a sort of scientism or reason-ism.

There is a reason many people find science boring unless it is doing something spectacular or presented in entertaining ways. It’s because in this reason-based system, we have had to repress our irrationality so deeply and so thoroughly that we have lost all ability to control it, channel it, or otherwise maintain it. I would like to propose that in order to save science and rationality, we must embrace and attempt to understand and work within irrationality.

Ours is the task of the artist who wrestles with thier irrational mind and orders it into something that is emotionally informative, motivating, and satisfying. In other words, we must use our irrationality as a way of adapting ourselves to the world as it is. We can no longer afford to view these tendencies cynically, as happens in advertising (where it is exploited for profitand power), nor can we afford to dismiss them (as the Trump and Brexit campaigns so terrifyingly demonstrate). The only way forward for the sciences is through the arts. The lessons of science will perish if they remain in the abstractions of the mind and data alone. The discoveries of science must become embodied and subject to the innate intelligences within.

Reason and cool rationality- seeing things in an abstracted and detatched way does not automatically equate to useful human action. Neglect of the human body becomes a revolt that will seek expression and empower whomever enables it. It makes one a dangerous and irrational addict. It becomes a tyrannical leader who will exploit the entirety of our collective techonological power to impose his will on the population- a terrifying, super-Orwellian Big Brother. Science requres humans. Humans require humanity. Therefore we must embrace our irrationality and learn to respect and ride it…or else.