Subjectivity + Rationality

Many people believe the foundation of science and scientific thought is observation and objectivity — but I believe they are simply overlooking a lot of data … and in particular the much more fundamental way humans (and probably most life) think and also about how they tend to naturally make decisions.

Humans do not normally observe data objectively. On the contrary, they usually orient their thinking towards what other humans think. As I mentioned in my previous post, this may very well have its “roots” in something like instinctive or innate behavior. Yet beyond such reflexive attention to the affections of others, humans also orient much of their rational thinking and base their notion of rationality on such herd thinking (also known as “herd mentality”).

This is not simply a matter of “pre-modern” thinking before the age of science. While few people today are aware of the fact that Galileo died as a heretic, even fewer are aware that much of what people consider to be “rationality” is also based on the same kind of herd mentality by which observations are deemed as valid or invalid, credible or incredible, accepted dogma or heretical nonsense.

Democracy and the idea of “majority rule” are prime examples of this phenomenon. Likewise statements like “9 out of 10 experts agree” seem to be a convincing argument that you, too, ought to agree. To establish something as a rock-solid fact, there is nothing nearly as effective as widespread agreement regarding that fact.

It was only a little over 100 years ago, that the psychologist Gustave Le Bon pioneered the examination of herds and mob mentality. Many of his insights became central to the fields first known as “propaganda”, later “public relations”, marketing and advertising. Basically, the idea in each arena was to use some sort of trick to convince people that the vast majority of people believed some proposition — such as that a food or beverage tastes good, or that some other product or service is desirable.

Since such tricks undermine what our natural instincts and inclinations lead us to believe what might be reliable information, the increasing influx of misinformation will increasingly make it harder for us to discern good from bad information sources. This problem is further exacerbated by policies which limit the wider public’s ability to learn basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, etc.

Today, it is more important than ever to understand how (for want of a better term) our “collective subjectivity” canĀ  be used to separate the wheat from the chaffe — firstly, whether that can even be practically attained at all; and secondly, how we can best cultivate such capabilities without becoming misguided by attempts to trick us into being fooled by deceitful attempts dupe the masses into becoming a mob of suckers.

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