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Brief Book Brief

Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters – By: Steven Pinker

Saw an interview (interview here) with this uniquely charismatic researcher, author, professor, etc., and had to have the book. HATED IT. Here’s why. I like to think of myself as a pretty rational being. The number of times I responded to ideas or exercises in the book with what turns out to be mostly blether and blather was disconcerting. Tried to listen in the car, he started doing math, I had to decide to learn something or kill everyone on the highway, had to get the physical book, do the math. Still going to have to read it again.

Some quotes from the book:

“A major theme of this book is that none of us, thinking alone, is rational enough to consistently come to sound conclusions: rationality emerges from a community of reasoners who spot each other’s fallacies.”

“And as excellent as our cognitive systems are, in the modern world we must know when to discount them and turn our reasoning over to instruments—the tools of logic, probability, and critical thinking that extend our powers of reason beyond what nature gave us. Because in the twenty-first century, when we think by the seat of our pants, every correction can make things worse, and can send our democracy into a graveyard spiral.”

“Just as citizens should grasp the basics of history, science, and the written word, they should command the intellectual tools of sound reasoning. These include logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, the optimal ways to adjust our beliefs and commit to decisions with uncertain evidence, and the yardsticks for making rational choices alone and with others.”

Recommended. Don’t try in the car.

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