The Rational Animal

Plato and Aristotle get credit for propagating the notion than man is "the rational animal."  The main problem with this idea is that detailed psychological studies show that it is a myth.  It's true that people, or at least some of them, exhibit rational thought on many occasions, but aside from problem solving, our rational thought is more commonly used for constructing post hoc rationalizations for what our instincts told us to do than in actually deciding.

Most human behavior arises out of our instinctive or emotional responses.  We don't save rational thought for solving algebra problems or crossword puzzles, though.  We also use it in our moral and social reasoning, but it's implicit in our neural design that the logical elements of such thinking are literally an afterthought.  Initial processing of such decisions comes from the evolutionarily older emotional and instinctive parts of the brain, with the higher level logical thinking parts of the prefrontal cortex activated later as a sort of CYA lawyer to check that all the legal niceties are observed.


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