No purity tests needed for Reason Rally
With only a few days until the big event, there’s a few people fuming about some of the guest speakers coming to the Reason Rally. PZ Myers is upset that Bill Maher will be there because of some of his anti-vaccination statements in the past. Also in attendance is Senator Tom Harkin, a Catholic and a believer in alternative medicine, who plans to address the crowd. Myers is convinced that the very name of the Rally should discourage any person who holds some kind of foolish belief from speaking.
Problem is, if we did that, it might discount most of the crowd. In fact, it might mean that no human could ever hope to meet the criteria of being truly rational, and everyone should probably just stay home. Why? Because humans suck at being rational.
We aren’t a rational species to begin with. Decisions we make tend to be driven by emotion, and if our higher brain (our flaunted prefrontal cortex) does have something to say about it, it tends to only service our emotions by crafting elaborate rationalizations. (You can read all about this in the book: “The Upside of Irrationality“) This explains why extremely intelligent people can believe in utter nonsense: clever minds can rationalize well enough to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. The rest is easy; since we all have a natural bias towards any opposing views (who wants to spend all that effort changing your mind?), they will never be exposed to the flaws in their thinking.
Problem is, it would be hard to find someone who didn’t at least share some of those tendencies. I’m not sure everything I believe in is squeaky clean of the subtle manipulation of a mind which craves certainty and clarity. Are all my assumptions true (at least more conducive to reality, given our current understanding)? In Michael Shermer’s new book “The Believing Brain“, he explains how our awareness of our own biases often makes us overestimate our capacity to look beyond them. In other words, even when we think we have a handle on our irrationality, it tends to only make it worse. Is that what I do as well?
It’s all the objections to this I find irrational. The Reason Rally is a bit of an oxymoron to begin with: swept up by the emotion of the crowd, how can anyone hope to act rationally? The whole purpose of this meeting is a “prep” rally to encourage people to think for themselves, to question their own cherished assumptions, and to hold no truth as sacred. Are we now making purity tests for what constitutes a rational mind? There’s something I profoundly dislike about that idea, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.
What do you think?