I am modern, “relatively” rational and has a vocation in science, yet, I do have a “lucky shirt” in my closet, an amulet under my shirt, and am not ashamed to run to the nearest soothsayer, like many Indians, if I perceive an existential threat. I am definitely not unique because most people I know are neither rational or irrational in toto, but perhaps a mix of both. Of course, what aspects of life one is rational or irrational may vary widely among individuals. However, it is not uncommon in this day and age to have a friend, a colleague, or a kin who may obsessively claim that the power of reason and a scientific temperament are arguably enough to lead a content life. As “evangelists of logic” they can often be as persuasive about primacy of science and logic as a Mullah in Tehran would be about his sect, making one contemplate if rationalism has become a religion in its own right ?
We all start as young and naive, then young and less naive, then young bordering on old, and then from there on it’s all downhill to the grave. Somewhere along that line we grow up, stop being young, stop making stupid mistakes and our rational instincts kicks in. But, is it necessary to strive to be a “pure” rational ? Can “pure” rationalism evolve into a social value system, with science and reason being its theology or should we be cautious of it ? I must confess, that it does become hard at times, to draw the distinction between an over-ideological rationalist and a religious fanatic, in terms of their self-righteousness, intolerance to external ideologies, institutionalized propagation of their ideas, or unwarranted pompousness. Should it worry us then that a number of social actions and interactions are increasingly becoming based on considerations of evidence and intellectualization rather than on motivations derived from morality, emotion, custom, or tradition ?
The dream of a glorious future when the march of science and logic will automatically exorcise our demons of irrationality, I think, will always remain a dream. Take for instance, the underlying principle of science, “Every scientific statement must be capable of verification” – it cannot be verified by any scientific method in itself, and is more or less like a self-perpetuating religious dogma !!!!. The list is long …….What do scientists do when they “cherry pick” to suit their narrative of truth and want to justify it ? – we use the term “intutive selection”. Hence, the more we hunt for irrationality in people and processes around us, the clearer it becomes that irrationality is perfectly normal. Human beings are not wired for a perpetual state of logical thinking. Irrationality is our default state, and overcoming it completely is impossible. It is impossible for anyone healthy to be 100% rational. Nothing defines humans better than our capacity to do non-rational things at times in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs – lotteries, dating, poetry, movies – do we need more examples ?.
Although feelings and emotions are hardly rational and as humans emotions may always find a way to get counted into our choices no matter how hard we try to ignore them – the trick then about staying rational in life is to strive for it constantly without making a religion of it.