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The Human Element

A June 26th article in Scientific American titled “The Political Brain” suggests that all people in all fields of endeavor, when making decisions, should emulate the scientific method.

The scientific method, as it appears it would have to apply to non-scientific endeavors, simply means that before making a decision on things like which business policies to adopt, which side of a social or political issue to support or even which candidate for office to choose, only facts should be considered; emotions or preconceived notions should be ignored and, most importantly, all personal biases should be removed from the decision making process.

Making a well informed, unbiased, unemotional decision appears to be the perfect way to make a decision but is this possible . . . or even desirable?

The article describes a scientific test that took place before the 2004 Presidential elections:

“During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men–half self-described as “strong” Republicans and half as “strong” Democrats–were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.”

Why did the Republicans find justification for Bush’s self-contradictions and the Democrats for Kerry’s? Its because of how the brain works when it runs into a decision. In less scientific terms than the original article used: the brain scan results showed that the part of the brain that is most associated with analyzing information was not even used but the parts of the brain that fuel the emotions, resolve conflicts and make moral decisions were very active.

The bottom line is: most decisions are made based on emotion and existing beliefs — not on facts. The article’s author calls this “confirmation bias” and describes it as our ability to “. . . seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence.”

Call me crazy but . . .

. . . I have this Pollyanna side of me that realizes that it may be an irrational hope, but I none-the-less maintain a hope that someday all of us human animals will evolve. Evolve into “ideal humans” who consistantly make rational, well-informed, unbiased decisions while, at the same time, applying societal rules and norms (what religious types would call morals) to the equation.

Why apply societal rules and norms to perfect logic and reason? Because science is cold, hard and unemotional and, in the human arena, we call that ‘sociopathic.’

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