How To Be More Rational

Rationality in reasoning is the presence of logic and the absence of emotion. Obviously it is impossible to completely remove emotion from the reasoning process of the human brain, but we can make an effort to minimize emotion’s involvement in the process.

The most rational people do three things to ensure they make logic based decisions. First they practice minimizing emotion’s role in the decision making process. Second they practice being more skeptical. Finally they practice making logic driven decisions.

Make Fewer Emotional Decisions

Emotions are intertwined in the brain. Because of this we can’t ever fully separate our emotions from decisions. Anyone who tells you they can do this doesn’t understand the brain. Minimize emotion driven decisions in three ways.

First, study the brain and understand how emotions leak into the process of decision making. Recognize those patterns in yourself. For example, certainty is a feeling we get not because of a rational process but because of an emotional one. This book goes more into detail on emotional reasoning and the brain.

Next practice distancing yourself emotionally from situations. There are a few ways to do this but one is to use time as your ally. By waiting for emotions to subside, people can minimize their involvement. Practice waiting a full day before making final life decisions. Practice meditation to calm the brain.

Practice Being More Skeptical

Skepticism is an ancient tradition of practicing questioning everything. One skeptic came up with a system for asking himself questions that led him to know if he was being dogmatic about his beliefs. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to improve your ability to be rational, “are there better ways of explaining what just happened,” “what biases do I have, or what do I want to believe?”

You can also come to be more skeptical by following this thesis that explains Pyrrhonic beliefs. For example recognize that animals have different ways of perceiving, feeling, valuing, or experiencing the world. This leads us to be more careful believing something because of our perceptions or because of our values.

Socrates wasn’t a skeptic but his Socratic method is one way of analyzing arguments and practicing a form of skepticism. Socrates asked a series of questions to show people they didn’t know what they were talking about. He showed them how their assumptions controlled their conclusions, and how those assumptions weren’t always justified. Practice asking yourself what evidence you have for the conclusions you have. In what ways could that evidence be wrong?

There is a recent movement called Street Epistemology. SE tries to use questions to help people spot their assumptions and find errors in their reasoning processes. We wrote a full article about it here, but practice asking yourself “how certain on a scale of 1 to 10 are you that you are right? Why didn’t you choose a higher/lower number? If you chose 10, ask yourself what would change in your life if that belief wasn’t true.”

Science is the best method for finding truth that humans have been able to create. Study the philosophy of science. The philosophy of science seeks to ask what the assumptions, purposes, and boundaries of science are. For example, one idea that might make up our conceptions of science is the idea of falsification. Falsification is the idea that a position is refutable with some sort of fact or test. For example I could falsify my belief that the sun just blew up by walking outside and looking for the sun. Thus, the belief that the sun blew up is at least partially scientific. If your beliefs have reasonable situations where they can be proven wrong, then they are more likely to be rational.

Practice Being More Logical

There are three ways to practice being more logical. First, learn to spot logical fallacies. Fallacies are patterns of reasoning that don’t always lead to good conclusions. We cover fallacies in more detail here, but here are a few common ones.

  • Ad Hominem – this common fallacy is where people attack the person’s character instead of the argument. A person who is a liar, cheat, and an overall horrible person could still be capable of telling the truth.
  • Straw Man – this fallacy happens when people over simplify their opponent’s argument. By over simplifying the argument they make it easier to attack.
  • Argument To Moderation – some people say that truth is usually a compromise between two opposite sides. This isn’t true for many reasons, but one simple one is that all one side has to do is take a more extreme side to move the supposed correct answer.
  • Appeal To Tradition – this fallacy argues that because it was done in the past it is the right way to do something. Plenty of things were done in the past that were terribly wrong and horrid.
  • Appeal To Authority – good arguments sometimes appeal to relevant authorities. But often people use credibility in one field to apply to another field. For example a heart doctor talking about how to heal a rotator cuff injury.

Next, practice spotting fallacies in daily discourse. Turn on your favorite YouTube or TV show and write down all the times they used logical fallacies.

If you are really serious about improving your logical reasoning, study the logical reasoning section of the LSAT. The LSAT is a law school admissions test that looks at your ability to be logical. Don’t bother with the reading comprehension or the logic games section. Focus on learning the reasoning skills tested in the two logical reasoning parts of the test. This is the best way to master logical reasoning. Here is a book that teaches the reasoning section of the LSAT.

Use Emotional Reasoning Reduction Techniques

This page discusses the following techniques that can reduce emotional reasoning. We strongly suggest the journaling approach since it can be done anywhere, anytime, and a therapist isn’t necessary.

  • Guided Discovery – A therapist or other person asks questions that guide the person to recognizing cognitive distortions.
  • Cognitive Reversal – People review past experiences where they used emotional reasoning. They recognize the results and the patterns that led them there. This helps minimize the pattern’s future occurrence.
  • Validity Testing – Patients defend their thoughts using evidence. If they can’t they are emotionally reasoning.
  • Journaling – Individuals record their emotions, situations, and responses to help recognize and stop emotional reasoning.
  • Modeling – Two people role play a situation where emotional reasoning could happen and instead practice appropriate ways of responding.
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