Is it irrational?


Jason Collins


August 16, 2017

Over at Behavioral Scientist magazine my second article, Rationalizing the ‘Irrational’, is up.

In the article I suggest that an evolutionary biology lens can give us some insight into what drives peoples’ actions. By understanding someone’s actual objectives, we are better able to determine whether their actions are likely to achieve their goals. Are they are behaving “rationally”?

Although the major thread of the article is evolutionary, in some ways that is not the main point. For me the central argument is simply that when we observe someone else’s actions, we need to exercise a degree of humility in assessing whether they are “rational”. We possibly don’t even know what they are trying to achieve, let alone whether their actions are the best way to achieve it.

Obviously, this new article pursues a somewhat different theme to my first in Behavioral Scientist, which explored the balance between human and algorithmic decision making. After discussing possible topics for my first article with the editor who has been looking after me to date (DJ Neri), I sent sketches of two potential articles. We decided to progress both.

My plan for my next article is to return to the themes from the first. I’ve recently been thinking and reading about algorithm aversion, and why we resist using superior decision tools when they are available. Even if the best solution is to simply use the algorithm or statistical output, the reality is that people will typically be involved. How can we develop systems where they don’t mess things up?