The Limits of Reason

The idea that man is a fundamentally rational being goes back a long way. Descartes believed that our capacity for thinking and reasoning would allow us to discover absolute truths. Kant’s motto for the Enlightenment era, sapere aude (‘dare to be wise’), assumes that men have an inherent capacity for reason, and that they need only have the courage to unleash it in order to become mature and enlightened men.

Over the last fifty years, an ever-increasing volume of scientific literature has started revealing a number of intrinsic cognitive biases in the human mind, thereby drawing a much more nuanced picture of human faculties.

This very weakness is one of the central themes of Joseph Heath’s book, Enlightenment 2.0, which analyzes the increasingly extreme and manipulative nature of North American politics. While the book encompasses many subjects, I will here summarize and extend on one particular aspect of Heath’s work, namely how to deal with our limited rationality.

The first part of this essay deals with examples of specific cognitive limitations which bound our rationality. The second deals with the “fixes” we use to deal with them. The remaining parts reflect on the implications of Heath’s analysis for organizational design.

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A World Unexpected

The following article is the result of a still ongoing personal reflection about the way humans relate to their natural environment. It draws upon a variety of sources and influences. The first part introduces some of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ideas, how these relate to our subjective experience of randomness and uncertainty, and how this allows us to better understand, though not predict, the ongoing environmental crisis. The second part draws on the work of physicists and geologists in order to reframe our perception of time and matter. The third part discusses the increasingly popular concept of resilience, which I again relate to Taleb’s ideas.

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