[EAS]Unreasoned Behavior

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Dec 10 17:57:35 EST 2001

Subject:   Unreasoned Behavior

(from NewsScan Daily, 10 December 2001)

      Neurologist Donald B. Calne warns against placing too much
confidence  in the power of reason in human behavior (as though we
needed the warning!):
      "In the twentieth century, two devastating world wars, numerous
small  wars, and recurrent economic instability sapped confidence and
optimism.  The pendulum began to swing against reason and now the
opposition is  coalescing. The recoil from reason takes on the aspect
of a surreal motion  picture. The growing strength of cults, religious
fundamentalism, and  political extremism reflects this disenchantment.
Unreason flourishes with  the rise and increasing popular authority of
clairvoyants, spiritualists,  astrologers, faith healers, devotees of
alternative medicine, and new age  extraterrestrial communicators.
These exponents of unreason are irrational  because they reject, deny,
or misinterpret relevant information that is  available through
observation. Widespread anti-intellectual forces denounce  science as
a regressive influence driving imperialism and militarism --  even
sexism and racism. A new and fashionable view holds that science is a 
subjective, culturally determined ideology with nothing 'real' behind
      "The letter of invitation to the Nobel Conference XXV, held in
1989,  warns: 'As we study our world today, there is an uneasy feeling
that we  have come to the end of science, that science, as a unified,
universal,  objective endeavor, is over.' The problem is not confined
to science; there  is a fragmentation of public support for all
academic activity. Governments  have lost interest in the university
and its potential. The Chinese  Cultural Revolution showed how easily
political forces can exploit  anti-intellectual sentiments into a
massive popular movement capable of  destroying art, science, and
medicine. The onslaught against reason in  China was all the more
alarming because it achieved such sweeping success  in a nation whose
historical roots are steeped in art, science, and  medicine -- whose
people were pioneers of reason.
       "Why have so many turned against reason? There are several 
explanations, but among the foremost must be failure of the quixotic
hopes  vested in it. Reason was misrepresented as an all-powerful,
divine force,  with its own supreme mission. In fact, it has no aim
and no inherent  goodness. Reason is simply and solely a tool, without
any legitimate claim  to moral content. It is a biological product
fashioned for us by the  process of evolution, to help us survive in
an inhospitable and  unpredictable physical environment. It is also a
tool to enable us to  compete with other animals that are larger,
faster, and stronger, with  longer claws and more powerful jaws."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0375703225/newsscancom/ for
 Donald B. Calne's "Within Reason: Rationality and Human Behavior" --
look  for it in your favorite library. (We donate all revenue from our
book  recommendations to adult literacy action programs.)

This is a good context for recommending Wendy Kaminer's book
"Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: THe Rise of Irrationalism and
Perils of Piety", New York: Vintage Books, 1999. Wendy Kaminer
examines the ways in which society has come to value emotion over
reason, faith over fact, and argues that declarations of intense
belief have taken the place of rational discourse. She is a member of
an almost extinct tribe, the public intellectual. Only Neil Postman
and Susan Sontag come to my mind as fellow members. --PJK

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