Common Sense Is Nonsensical

This is why I always rail against people suggesting anything is “common sense.”

Why? Because, most likely, that “common sense” thinking is nonsensical.

David McRaney:

Your common sense is informed by imperfect inputs decoded through biases and heuristics defended by logical fallacies stored in corrupted memories that are unpacked through self-serving narratives. Native good judgment? Well, sure, sometimes, but there’s a reason why we had to invent the scientific method. Native judgment is pretty unreliable.

This is why I rather enjoy my tendency to be hyper-rational. Everyone naturally begins with a conclusion – this cannot be helped. A rational thinker, however, doesn’t simply take that conclusion and defend it vociferously: he, or she, is more interested in investigating the validity of that conclusion and, if that validity is found weak, would rather seek out a different explanation for something than intellectually regress to that same, debunked, conclusion.

I fear this lack in rational, nuanced thinking is the cause of most of the world’s problems. Unfortunately democratic rule tends to exacerbate the effects of this problem.

Political scientist and economist Herbert A. Simon coined the phrase “bounded rationality” which is “is the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.” –  Wikipedia

Another way to look at bounded rationality is that, because decision-makers lack the ability and resources to arrive at the optimal solution, they instead apply their rationality only after having greatly simplified the choices available. Thus the decision-maker is a satisficer, one seeking a satisfactory solution rather than the optimal one.

Taking “common sense” and rationality as it is naturally bounded, you can see destructive common sense can become. If you are rationally bound based on the information you have, your ability to think and rationalize, and since we tend to be limited on time in most situations, not sitting back and cutting through your biases can lead to permanent beliefs of intuitive thinking.

Considering “common sense” has a strong tendency to become shared and, eventually, communal, society tends to find fallacious conclusions and ideas as sensible when in fact they are just that: fallacious conclusions without rational or empirical merit due to bounded rationality and very limited time to scientifically devise explanations for a phenomenon.

So the next time you hear someone say X, Y or Z is simply common sense, you should challenge that common sense and the person who suggests its sensible. You should take the utterance of “common sense” as a big tell that they haven’t really thought something through and are, most likely, wrong.


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