On Rationality, and Love
The personal side to this is already dated and I’m okay; I drafted this days ago in a moment of disenchantment, and simply rolled with it now to keep going with my posting plans. Have a great weekend everyone.
The last few months have been a difficult challenge for me. My heart, which I had long been out of touch with, all of a sudden broken, I took on a decisive effort to look into myself, why I was aching so badly, why I had felt so gutted over a relationship that began like a geeky romance novel but ended abruptly with my innards spilled over the wall I had crashed, alone, for seemingly only I had failed to reach for the exit. (So poetic.)
I was particularly driven to investigate because that feeling of being gutted over a relationship that wasn’t fulfilling was nothing new. I will freely wave at two more persons whose names I yet decided to leave out (no one hinted at in Journey of J.). I had loved these people but the love had made me vulnerable to an extent that I had turned prey—that at least had been my personal narrative. Why and how exactly is nothing for this post—what is is that I had enough of tearing at the seams over relationships that were detrimental to me (and being careless about the ones that were good), all the while knowing that I and my thinking played a huge part in it.
I pulled out everything out of my cognitive arsenal; all of what I describe in How to Work on Oneself, plus all of what I have learned about work on one’s beliefs, an important tangent I only glossed over in the book. I set aside much time for myself and for some deep study, and for quiet time to investigate my pain, my feelings, and the thinking behind them.
The exact process and development I’ll skip once more, but suffice it to say that in these last couple of months, I took about 100 US letter format pages of personal notes, and set about 40 new reminders and affirmations (affirmations to internalize more beneficial beliefs). This extent to which my work yielded results was surprising, even though I was familiar with focused self-study.
Alas, the work was so “successful” that it started to disintegrate my self: I had dug so deep that my psychological foundation got shaky, and the water around me all murky. These are good metaphors, but the way to follow the process is to ponder the same questions I posed, the unhappy relationship leading straight down the rabbit hole: What do I want? What do I need? Why do I do x? Why do I think about what others think? Care about that? Why are people like they are? Are they? Am I similar; different? How? Why? What would change everything? What’s the story and role of this Inner Voice? &c. pp., to then add questions about dependencies, respect, trust, love, and shake all of that up, and deal with all the contradictions and conflicts that fall out.
It hasn’t been pretty. It’s been like going into the garage on a Sunday morning to entirely strip down one’s car—and, though I deem there to be no parallel to philosophy nor psychology, ending up thoroughly screwed if one wasn’t a mechanic. I believe I benefited from having had some experience doing this type of cognitive work as well as a psychical foundation to back down to, but that was just a tiny ledge to somehow, frantically, luckily put everything else back together.
One point, one particular realization came to me only these last days. It’s a possible root assumption, a core belief that we’ve stopped to question (at least I did, ironically given how careful I aim to be around all the beliefs we have around life and reality), which is that people were rational. Cf., notably, rational choice theory.
The problem is: We aren’t rational.
(We aren’t rational in a sense of universal quantification.)
(We aren’t conditionally rational, either.)
(Our reality is not rational, either.)
We aren’t rational, and the significance of this seems to be profound. I care less about the effect irrational man has on social, political, or economic theory, where I’m aware of critics who already prophesied fundamentally different theories in “ten years” (quoting one of my philosophy professors), but the effect irrational he-and-she has on psycho-philosophical models. Any belief we harbor about our kind may need to be re-evaluated when we switch from a rational to an irrational image of people (and vice-versa).
Yet here it gets messy for I’m making a number of important assumptions, and get antsy at the same time (I prefer short posts even when they have a tendency to be abstract). One, notably, that our beliefs are what makes our reality. (I wish the statement to be clear enough on how the world model this paints would be impacted by a turn from a rational to an irrational view of fellow men.) Another, then, that our belief systems currently depend on rationality, and that they enforce rationality, through rationalization—yet this is simpler to argue given secularization and theories like the one of rational choice.
What this may really mean, now, is that whenever we look at each other and try to comprehend or evaluate or anticipate our actions, the understanding that we are not rational says that we cannot. Yes, from an probabilistic point of view we can still try to induce what would happen, what could or could have been another person’s motivation, but that’s not deductive, and I believe that the probabilistic route continues to give us a false sense of understanding of each other, and a false sense of what it means to be human.
That we aren’t rational, so I’ll muse here, is nothing negative. It’s liberating; it’s human. Not necessarily doing what’s rational is an attribute of a special type of power that we possess, and we shouldn’t give this power away. That includes both how we look at ourselves, as well as at each other. (Some Weber at the horizon, who I believe talked about the risk of dehumanization in our world, too. Rationality or rationalization, so one can argue, dehumanizes.)
That I stop here is symptomatic for much on this blog, which I don’t get tired pointing out. I will add though that even though those last few months have been difficult for me, they have also brought much insight. They led me far beyond the relationship in question, a brief relationship I used to wish to think kindly of even though it’s been confusing; they led me beyond rationality, too, and we’ll touch on more very shortly. I’m fine, I’ve put it behind, yet when it comes to introspection I’m not sure I’ll play mechanic again without some additional safety. We should trust our selves, but beliefs truly are powerful, and shaky beliefs make for a shaky reality—and life.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.
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Perhaps my most interesting book: 100 Things I Learned as an Everyday Adventurer (2013). During my time in the States I started trying everything. Everything. Then I noticed that wasn’t only fun, it was also useful. Available at Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.