Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A New Humanism

Do you put more faith in your reasoning or emotions when making decisions? I can recall several investment advisers telling me to use the former.

David Brooks, a senior editor for the NYT, thinks a "new humanism" is emerging where "the emotional and rational are entwined."

He reflects on several policy failures over the last several decades which were partly due to an over reliance on the rational. "We have a prevailing view in our society — not only in the policy world, but in many spheres — that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions."

As a result "we emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion."

Recently, however, "a richer and deeper view" is being "brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on."

For example, he elaborates on the concept of limerence: "the conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others."

Ultimately Brooks suspects "their work will have a giant effect on the culture. It’ll change how we see ourselves. Who knows, it may even someday transform the way our policy makers see the world."

This excellent essay encourages us to think about our many decisions and the balance we could try to use when making them.