Monday, June 21, 2010

"Rationality is a Myth..."

Today's link takes you, not to a science article, but to a one about earthquake insurance. I don't care about your insurance portfolio. I barely care about mine - which may prove the article's underlying point regarding human psychology. Apparently, just because we have the science to make frightening risk predictions, it doesn't mean the human animal has the capacity to rationally quantify and cope with that risk assessment. And that's what fascinates me. My favorite quote: "Human beings are hard-wired to believe in their heart and soul that disasters don't happen and won't happen to them," says Dennis Mileti, a retired University of Colorado sociology professor and noted researcher. "Human beings are not rational when it comes to risk. Rationality is a myth invented by the Italians in the Renaissance." Evolutionary biology seems to hint that our brain development hasn't necessarily kept pace with our technology and science. What we understand intellectually doesn't always, or even often, translate into rational action. And we're only talking about a Californian's need to buy earthquake insurance. How does this sort of evolutionary biology meets hard tech in a life-threatening environment affect astronauts? Really, can humanity as we know it expand out into the stars only if the rose-colored, disaster-won't-happen-to-me glasses are in place? Are denial and a certain naiveté our best weapons when it comes to facing down almost certain death? Or can the brain be trained to overcome its own biology? If yes, is that adaptation? Or evolution?

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