Thursday, 30 July 2009

On reasoning

The worst, one of my lecturers in law school explained, is not to come to a decision, reasons for it you will find afterwards. For many years I took this only as a telling illustration of how practitioners of the law operate: you do not reach a decision by solving problems, you reach the decision first and then you argue the problems away. Over the years however I came to think of this approach as a very human way of dealing with the complexities of life. We usually do what we do without thinking too much why we do it - and afterwards we justify our actions.

Some time ago, a British journalist was interviewed on BBC's "Hardtalk". He had been allowed to play mouse when Tony Blair's inner circle was about to decide whether to go along with the Bush government in invading Iraq. What had baffled him, the journalist said, was how easily ("off the cuff", I believe he said) the decison had been taken. No heated arguments with knowledgeable people, pundits, and the like. No, nothing of that sort, just ... okay then, let's do it ...

In short, we mostly do not use our brains to solve problems, we use them to justify our actions.

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