The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, January 26, 2009

Are you controlled by irrational behavior?

See a fascinating lecture by behavioral economist Daniel Ariely from Duke University, on "irrational" behavior. (He means, irrational in the sense of economic self-interest maximizing; I know this a popular meaning among economists, but I'm not happy with it, which is why I've put it in quotes.)

To me, it's one long argument for teaching people how to have a higher level of awareness and thinking about everything they do.Check your premises!

(Hat tip to Anja Hartleb-Parson.)


y-intercept said...

I wouldn't file the lecture under "fascinating." I had seen the examples in the lectures multiple times before. The tricks on perspective were well known during the Renaissance and are in countless books.

The idea that changing the context of a question or quote changes one's perception is well known as well.

Politicians have long known that the quickest path to power is to manipulate the framework of the aurguments ... opposed to trying to win argument itself.

Personally, I would not dare to guess Daniel Ariely's definition of rational. It is possible that he thinks his little illusions repudiate the entire Aristotelian traditon. There is a whole tradition of putting forward illusion to repudiate rationality.

His rejection of rationality is based on projecting absolutism onto the rationalists. This argument falls flat when one realizes that Aristotle rejected absolutism. Aristotle sought clearly defined statements, but realized that absolutes lead to paradoxes.

Anyway, the only interesting thing about the film is that professor Ariely brings up the well known examples of people being judged in context of their neighbors. If I hung out with someone more homely than myself, I would appear worldly.

His lecture ends with a stunt where he projects absolutism onto his intellectual foe. Projecting absolutism on one's enemies makes one look more reasonably.

As the theme of the lecture was that one can manipulate perception by controlling the context, then the lecturer proved himself an absolute rogue with his little end piece.

Marsha Familaro Enright said...

I think he's working from the economist's premise that "rational" means that which is in your monetary self-interest.

I don't think he has a much wider or deeper conception than that, which is why his designation of the behavior as "irrational" is not very clarifying.