Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Apex of Human Cognition

Rational thinking and is not synonymous with rationalizing thought.  These phrases are often, mistakenly, used interchangeably. Rationalizing thought has an Aristotelian flavor, in that it involves putting forth reason for essentially any behavior or thought. Rationality is a weak concept, as it is applied in everyday dialogue. Most people are rational, if rational means an ability to provide some form of a reason for whatever. Cognitive science provides a different conceptualization of rationality; one that is consistent and is subject to assessment.  An array of the components underpinning rational thinking have been assessed. Recently a comprehensive measure of rationality was developed: Rationality Quotient.   

In discussing what makes humans unique as compared to other animals Stanovich asserts "what is really singular about humans: that they gain control of their lives in a way unique among lifeforms on Earth- by rational self determination (Stanovich, 2004, p.275)." Humans are capable of overriding automatic cognitive processes by using reflective thinking (category of Type 2 processing).
2 categories of rationality (excerpt from interview with Stanovich, West, Toplak Research Lab)
"Cognitive scientists recognize two types of rationality: instrumental and epistemic[As mentioned previously]. The simplest definition of instrumental rationality, the one that is strongly grounded in the practical world, is: Behaving in the world so that you get exactly what you most want, given the resources (physical andmental) available to you. Somewhat more technically, we could characterize instrumental rationality as the optimization of the individual’s goal fulfillment.
The other aspect of rationality studied by cognitive scientists is termed epistemic rationality. This aspect of rationality concerns how well beliefs map onto the actual structure of the world. The two types of rationality are related. In order to take actions that fulfill our goals, we need to base those actions on beliefs that are properly calibrated to the world.

Epistemic rationality is about what is true and instrumental rationality is about what to do. For our beliefs to be rational they must correspond to the way the world is—they must be true. For our actions to be rational they must be the best means toward our goals—they must be the best things to do."

 Rational thinking skills are important.  They are as important as intelligence.  Intelligence and rationality are often dissociated. Research demonstrates that intelligence is often a weak predictor of rationality.  This has been shown over a wide range of studies.  Intelligence is important, but there is more to good thinking than intelligence.  Intelligence reflects reasoning abilities across a wide variety of domains particularly novel ones.  In addition, intelligence reflects general declarative knowledge acquired through acculturated learning.  Rationality reflects appropriate goal setting, goal optimization, and holding evidence-based beliefs.

Chapter 2 from In Evidence We Trust focuses on rationality. Some key points from Chapter 2 (Hale, 2013):

"Society is replete with examples of intelligent people doing foolish things. This seems puzzling considering that intelligent people (as indicated by intelligence tests and their proxies-SAT, etc.) are generally thought of as rational, smart people. So, it may come as a surprise to find out that intelligent people are not necessarily rational people.

Many researchers suggest that a key characteristic of critical thinking is the ability to recognize one’s own fallibility when evaluating and generating evidence-recognizing the danger of weighing evidence according to one’s own beliefs. 

Kelley (1990) argues that 'the ability to step back from our train of thought . . . . is a virtue because it is the only way to check the results of our thinking, the only way to avoid jumping to conclusions, the only way to stay in touch with the facts'(p. 6).

Rationality is concerned with two key things: what is true and what to do (Manktelow, 2004).  In order for our beliefs.

Noncausal base-rate usage (Stanovich & West, 1998c, 1999, 2008)
Conjunction fallacy between subjects (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Framing between subjects (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Anchoring effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Evaluability less is more effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Proportion dominance effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Sunk cost effect (Stanovich & West, 2008; Parker & Fischhoff, 2005)
Risk/benefit t confounding (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Omission bias (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Perspective bias (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Certainty effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
WTP/WTA difference (Stanovich & West, 2008)
My-side bias between and within S (Stanovich & West, 2007, 2008)
Newcomb’s problem (Stanovich & West, 1999; Toplak & Stanovich, 2002)"
[intelligence tests measure cognitive ability]

Often, people mistakenly make the assumption that Stanovich is implying the intelligence is not important. He asserts that Intelligence is an important cognitive ability associated with an array of outcomes. Rationality is also important and it measures different cognitive skills than what is measured on intelligence tests and their proxies. Rationality assesses cognitive ability and cognitive style. It is ideal to rate high in intelligence and rationality.

Learn more about In Evidence We Trust