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Description: It is quite common for those talking about the nature of human rationality to point out that a number of the shortcuts or heuristics that we use in analyzing information that the world is presenting us may in fact lead us in the direction of making decisions that are ultimately less rational. This review focuses on a book on this topic that suggests that we might want to reconsider this typically negative view of the nature of human rationality.

Source: PsycCritiques, (August 2015) In the Twilight of Probabilities: Link Below

SImply Rational

Date: August 31, 2015

Links: Review:

There is no denying that much of human decision-making is driven by utilities or heuristics that in a strict sense are somewhat less than rational in nature. It is quite common to point out how in matters of economics or simply in the matter of automobile selection human sometimes behave in ways that are not rational and make decisions that are potentially sub- optimal on the basis of built-in heuristics and biases. The author of the book that is the subject of this review asks us to step back a bit and to look at the context in which this thinking typically occurs. He points out that many of the decisions we are required to make throughout our regular lives are not the simple defined questions that we might find in laboratories that allow themselves to be dealt with using more formal rational processes but are rather what is sometimes described as messy and wicked problems due to their fundamental complexity and uncertainty. The author points out that the strategies we’ve developed for coping with uncertain situations to provide us with messy and wicked problems are in fact a large part of how we evolved or adapted to our current reality. He invites us to think of the real-life contexts in which decisions are made before we become too critical of the “natural” human cognitive processes.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some of the differences between the sorts of problems research participants are asked to confront in cognitive psychology laboratories in the sorts of problems those same individuals face in the outside world?
  2. From an adaptive perspective what are the strengths and weaknesses of utilities or heuristics human beings used to solve problems?
  3. How do you think we ought to think about the relationship between logical rationality and human adaptation to the world?

References (Further Reading):

Gigerenzer, Gerd (2015) Simply Rational: Decision Making in the Real World New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 312 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-939007-6.


Lieder, F., & Griffiths, T. L. (2015). When to use which heuristic: A rational solution to the strategy selection problem. In Proceedings of the 37th annual conference of the cognitive science society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Boudry, M., Vlerick, M., & McKay, R. (2015). Can evolution get us off the hook? Evaluating the ecological defence of human rationality. Consciousness and cognition, 33, 524-535.

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