The human brain is an ape brain, not a computer.

Consider the number of cognitive biases, how the important decisions belong to the “heart” not the brain. Human reason is nothing when compared with human rationalization.

We don’t think the way we think we think.

It is well known that the human brain did not evolve to behave as a computer. Selflessly handling information in an unbiased seek for truth may not be particularly beneficial for individuals or their offspring. Winning arguments may help, as other cognitive biases and evolutionary vestiges. For example, assuming agency behind the movement of the grass could prove beneficial even with low probability, as the cost of finding it was not the wind but a lion could be death. Sometimes, better be wrong than sorry. It is only natural to assume agency in lightning and thunder, gods.

A successful strategy for evolution may prove fatal in few generations, though. Populism appeals not to reason but emotions, and its propaganda thrives all over the world. Traditionally misattributed as a problem with democracy, it is a problem with human reason, or lack thereof. Seemingly new, analogously to populism, marketing to improve subjective perception sells more than R&D to objectively improve products, and gets more resources. The perfect rationality assumed by traditional economics fails and behavioral economics becomes the only realistic approach. The problems with democracy and free markets are in fact problems in the human reason. The solution should be science, but academia does not help, not yet.

Even if the human brain is not a computer, we can emulate an extremely slow computer. Undeniably, we can “run” assembler using pens and paper. We have the capability for rationalizing and masking the ape brain, but we are also capable of critical thinking and skepticism. In such a context, there are two things that we must do:

  1. Do not forget your ape nature, your well-being depends on that. The irrational and unconscious part of our brain is much larger than our rational topping. Therefore, it is best for the individual to align both sides rather than hosting a civil war between both classic sides. Systems (including societies and education) should be designed so that doing the right thing requires less effort and gets greater rewards than otherwise.
  2. Use our rational capabilities to their best. For example, sometimes talking about it helps. Many are interested in fooling us, it is very profitable and easier than you think. Some decisions are best left to the “heart”, using a decision support system may work well to choose a house but may not be optimal to choose who to marry with. Reason may give you success, but not fulfillment.

If more people do this at an individual level, political discourse may get closer to prescriptive data analysis, discussing biases in the analysis, and less to what it is now. Do your part. Suggestions are welcome.

PS: I have wanted to write this post since long ago. It is a happy coincidence that the “Nobel in Economy” was awarded to Richard Thaler recently.


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