George Dvorsky wrote a recent article: “Why you’re probably not as rational as you think you are—and what you can do about it“. This caught my attention, in which he interviews a proponent of rational thinking:
[Q:] “How can we meaningfully talk about being rational knowing that we’re always making decisions with insufficient information? Aren’t we just fooling ourselves that we’re being rational, when in reality we’re no more or less rational than someone working off different knowledge?
[A:] Rationality is only defined with respect to the information you have. So if you and I have different information, we could both reason rationally and still end up at different conclusions. But given the information you have, there are more and less rational ways to use it.”
Later Dvorsky asks why transhumanists and others have been early adopters of improving rational thinking, and he gets this answer:
“Futurists are especially interested in what’s possible, and they’re excited by the powerful new capacities technology affords us – capacities to relieve suffering, make people happier, and make new discoveries. That’s what rationality is. It’s a mental technology, a way of affording ourselves more control over the outcomes of our decisions, so that we can better pursue our happiness.”
The information from which Dvorsky works, and from which he derives his rationality, is a purely materialistic worldview, in which he does not value human beings as such, or at least only insofar as he can propel humanity’s evolution into a machine-like intelligence. Thus rationality becomes a “mental technology”.
I find this understanding of rationality, and Dvorsky’s goals and purposes, to be disturbing, frightening, and highly unethical. Indeed, one can be “rational” from within one’s own limited perspective. Time and again throughout history, for example, individuals and societies have eliminated populations of human beings with a cold, harsh rationality that can leave us staggering at the implications of their rationality. I agree with Margaret Somerville, a Canadian bioethicist, in her article “Transhumanism: the dangers of creating Humanity 2.0“, that views such as Dvorsky holds “will change not only individuals, but also our societies and their institutions” in ways that demean, diminish and dehumanize us.
Rationality is a skill and a good to be pursued, but one must be aware of the worldview which informs that rationality, and one needs to be careful of those who pursue rationality from within an impoverished base of knowledge and understanding.