Improving Our Capacity for Rational Thinking – A Letter To NYTimes Editor.

In September I wrote a letter to the editor in response to this op-ed article in the NYTimes Sunday Review because I was disappointed that the researchers cited were solely appealing to the study participants intellect as a means to improve rational thinking.

The Difference Between Rationality and Intelligence

We are inevitably psychophysical beings and the way we make so-called rational decisions are as much a product of our physical, psychological and emotional selves as our improved intellectual understanding.

F.M. Alexander understood this and developed the Alexander Technique as a means to replace our (often) unconscious habitual reactions with a conscious reasoned response.

Here’s my full response:

I read with interest the op-ed article about how intelligence and rationality differ (The Difference Between Rationality and Intelligence in the Sunday Review on 9/18/2016). I agree that there is a poor correlation between the two but was disappointed that the study the column’s authors reference, training subjects in specific ways to decrease biased outcomes, is still appealing solely to the intellect. This study’s most successful outcomes were based on feedback given to the subjects on their responses to specific simulated situations. This was used as a way to educate them about their own biases and showed enduring decreases in what the study’s authors call “decision making bias”. Being made aware of our biases through the corrective medium of feedback certainly can invoke change on some level, but gained intelligence alone can’t change our behavior.

We are inevitably psychophysical beings and the way we make so-called rational decisions are as much a product of our physical, psychological and emotional selves as our improved intellectual understanding. All of these elements are determinants in our unconscious learned patterns of behavior. The capacity of an individual to pause before acting will be similarly active or repressed no matter the stimulus because our particular response patterns (again, mostly unconscious) are present in everything we do.

Instead of only educating subjects about their biases based on their written or oral responses in specific situations, why not also teach them how to be more aware of their own habitual response patterns that are likely to be present in any and every situation. That involves addressing the whole person, educating people not only via corrective feedback but asking them to turn up the volume on their sensation, to notice what their whole being is doing in any given situation or during a critical decision making process. Greater kinesthetic awareness is something that can be taught and is key to enabling us to notice and reflect on our own behavioral impulses – a product of our psychological emotional and physical selves. It’s an absolutely necessary tool for being able to consider our actions before we respond, enabling individuals to choose a reasoned, conscious response over an unconscious habitual reaction. Both in the study and in the column, it’s the missing link in training people to have “the capacity for reflective thought” and to therefore be more rational actors.

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