The Lens of Rationality: Why Bounded Rationality Matters

note: This post is the script for a short video I just released. The video can be found on at the end of this post and on the Intermittent Diversion YouTube channel.


 

Alright, let’s imagine I’m trying to catch a fly ball–how do I decide how to best position myself to catch that ball?

The obvious answer is to calculate the ball’s arc and trajectory using this formula and then find the exact place I should stand to catch the ball

And I’m going to do this because I’m rational…right?

Probably not.

I might be rational, but there’s no way I could calculate the ball’s trajectory and find the best place to position myself before it lands.

The point that I’m teasing out here is that we humans have what’s called “bounded rationality.”

And this just means that, when we make decisions, we have limits. We only have access to so much brain power and knowledge and we only have so much time to make a decision.

As a result, we’re going to rely upon our intuition and we ’re going to use mental shortcuts to make quick decisions.

This is why–when that fly ball is coming towards me, I’m going to keep my eye on it and stay under the ball–I’m going to use my intuition to figure out how to catch the ball, I’m not going to calculate its path.

Now, bounded rationality says that there are limits on our rationality, but it doesn’t mean that we are irrational. It’s more of an acknowledgement that we are part rational and part irrational in our actions.

We don’t operate in binary–we operate on more of a spectrum. Where we sit on this spectrum changes based on our environment and the resources available to us.

Rational decision making models are great–they give us useful ways of looking at the world, but they often fall short in the sense that humans don’t actually use them.

Reality isn’t characterized by simple environments and limitless resources.

This is why we use mental shortcuts instead–they help us navigate complex environments.

This is important because: how we understand rationality influences the way we look at the world. And to create a more realistic view of the world, we need to remember that:

  1. Our environment is complex and our resources are limited
  2. We are part rational and part irrational in our actions

When we view the world through the lens of rationality, we set ourselves up for failure. We expect too much of ourselves, we make poor predictions, and we’re left unhappy.

But, we don’t have to do this. Once we recognize the limits of our rationality, we can start to understand how we deal with the world we live in. We can paint a more realistic picture of human beings. We can accept our nature and work with it rather than against it.

“Human behavior is intendedly rational, but only limitedly so”

–Herbert Simon

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An Overlooked Art Form: The Quotation

Quotes have become commonplace in our everyday lives.

They’re on our billboards. They’re on our tee shirts and phone cases. They’re in the final lines of our emails. Ask anyone for their favorite quote and they will surely rattle off a line or two.

But given their ubiquitous nature, quotes are oft-forgotten as an art form, even though they occupy a unique space in the world of artistic mediums.

As an art form, the quote is distinguishable from other mediums through it’s derivational nature, it’s contextual freedom, and it’s portability. These inherent qualities create a high density platform for expression of the shared human experience.
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Kendrick Lamar and the ability to unite the human experience

Kendrick Lamar is a phenomenal storyteller.

He understands that human emotions are complex, but he also understands how to elicit those emotions from his listeners. Kendrick’s song FEAR. is the epitome of his ability to employ his own story in an effort to help the listener better understand their own.

While the manifestations of our fears may differ, Kendrick illustrates three elements of fear that affect all of us, regardless of circumstance.

These elements bond the emotions that stem from our experiences; they illustrate the similarities in the human experience rather than the differences.

A closer look at the elements of fear presented by Kendrick can help us better understand each other and help one another embrace love rather than fear.

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Music and the Suspension of Disbelief

The suspension of disbelief is the linchpin of a fictional narrative’s success; without it, a great deal of film and literature would be unrelatable and thus ineffective. The essential idea is that the audience must temporarily accept fiction as reality to connect with the art.

Though the concept is most frequently discussed in terms of film and literature, we actively engage in suspending our disbelief when listening to music. In doing so, we are able to heighten our experience and truly engage with an artist’s work.

The application of suspended disbelief to music enables us to expand our perspective and further connect with the music, providing us with the opportunity to improve our worldly understanding.
Scannable Document on Mar 11, 2017, 3_01_38 PM copy 2
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Perceived Relativity of Time

 Relativity of Time

Between the ages of ten and twenty years old, I doubled the length of my existence. My repository of memories and experiences multiplied, and my potential reference points expanded. Five minutes now appear more fleeting than they did ten years ago. As I increased the amount of time I lived through, I experienced an effect on my perception of the length of time.

Each additional day that we live, the moments that constitute our days become relatively more transient.

This is not merely a subjective feeling; it can be quantified. At the age of ten, I had lived for around 3,652 total days, meaning that one day constituted roughly .027% of my life. At the age of twenty, I had lived for around 7,305 total days, meaning that one day constituted roughly .013% of my life. Thus, the relative value of a day in my life had decreased doubly between the ages of ten and twenty.

time

It’s important to note that the relative values apply to each day of our lives. Not only is the current day valued at .013% of my life, but each preceding day (at any point in my life) is also equivalently valued at .013% of my life. Hence, the relativity of time should be approached with a present-oriented mindset. As each day passes, the value of each day diminishes; however, only the present day exists within our circle of influence. We cannot change the events of an earlier day, and thus the consideration of the diminished value of past days is irrelevant.

It is only useful to focus on the relative value of a day in terms of the present day, as that is the only day for which we have influence over.

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