Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Ease of Irrationality

It’s really easy to be irrational. We’re all prone to thinking and believing things that don’t aren’t true or logical, and we usually have reasons for it. Even yours truly, a Spock-like dude (RIP, Leonard) who values logic over pretty much everything, has had bouts of irrationality. For example, I met a girl named Liz at a bar a few years ago. There was obviously some mutual attraction--she actually approached me (albeit with a friend), and even though we only talked for maybe 10 minutes she invited me to go bowling with her friends that night. Enter Irrational Kyle.

First of all, I gave her my number instead of getting hers. This was a terrible idea. Despite the changing times, many women still expect men to take initiative (this makes things tricky for some girls who like girls, but works out pretty well for guys who like guys). Shockingly, I never heard from her.

Secondly, I didn’t go bowling with her. While alcohol is great as a social lubricant that reduces inhibitions and enables people to talk to each other, it tends to have a negative effect on decision-making. I somehow got the idea that she wouldn’t want me to come because she was a shy person and would feel weird about a pseudo-date while among her more boisterous friends. Did you know that shy people are more comfortable when they’re around their friends? Drunk Kyle didn’t.

Lastly, I spent an untold number of hours attempting to stalk her on the internet over the following week. Turns out it can be hard to find people when all you know about them is their first name and they don’t have a public Facebook profile. Or LinkedIn. Or MySpace (yeah, I checked). I even looked at rosters of bowling leagues and went to bowling alleys a few times in the hopes of running into her without it appearing insanely creepy. Does any of this seem reasonable? No, not at all. But, hey, that girl smiled at me, so clearly we were meant to be.

Society as a whole can get pretty irrational, too. I don’t mean that popular consensus is sometimes wrong--it’s easy to believe that the sun goes around the Earth when there’s no information suggesting otherwise. I’m talking about when we all have information and choose to ignore it. In the past couple decades, for example, there have been huge spates of cheating in sports that we simply pretended weren’t happening. Lance Armstrong won SEVEN straight Tour de France’s with ONE TESTICLE. You know how they have separate sports leagues for men and women? That’s because men are (in the aggregate) genetically better athletes, largely owing to higher levels of testosterone. You know where testosterone comes from? Balls. Also, you know what tends to have a negative effect on health and general physical ability? Cancer. Turns out Lance was involved in the biggest doping scandal of all time and lied about it. But, hey, it’s fun for America to be the best, and a cancer survivor turning into one of the greatest athletes ever made for an amazing story.

There’s also the crazy spike in home runs around the turn of the century. The McGwire-Sosa battle was the last time I gave a shit about baseball (although I’ll pretend to care whenever the Indians make the playoffs), and I’m probably not alone. No one had ever hit more than 61 homers in a year, but then McGwire and Sosa both smashed that record with Big Mac hitting 70. A few years later, Barry Bonds hit 73. Nothing suspicious about that. Nope, nothing at all. Especially not the drastic changes in proportions they all went through. But, hey, it’s fun to witness history.

The main thing that all these examples have in common is wishful thinking. Humans have a tendency to believe things more easily when they’re good for us. It’s easier to accept a good job review than a bad one. It’s common to think that we’re special in some way as most people think they’re smarter than average. It’s enticing to think that relationships will last forever rather than recognizing the flaws. Speaking of which...

<time travel>

(The following was written on 5/18/14 while in the full throes of irrationality) A couple years after Liz, there was Melissa. I’m actually writing this between my first and second date with her, assuming that I am at the height of my irrationality as it concerns this relationship. I’m really fucking romantic--I write about how irrational relationships are before they even happen.

So I met this broad, and she is, to put it succinctly, fucking delightful. At this point in time, I have talked to her for a grand total of four (4) hours, plus a few emails. We do not know the following information about each other:
  • Names of siblings, friends, parents, or coworkers
  • Type of high school experience
  • Type of childhood experience
  • Vacation destinations
  • Professional goals
  • Sex preferences
  • Music preferences beyond one band (Frightened Rabbit, for the record, a band that is easily in my top five)
  • Favorite books
  • Favorite TV shows
  • Experiences in previous relationships
  • Favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
  • Favorite color
  • Exercise habits
  • Political preferences
  • Cleanliness habits
  • Presumably other things

In addition to all these things I don’t know about her, I do know that she hates peanut butter but likes cucumbers (which is indicative of some serious mental issues), she’s taller than me, and she has a work schedule that is incongruous with mine (she basically works 10-12 hour days every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus 3 out of every 4 Saturdays, whereas I just work 9ish hour days Monday-Friday), all of which are less than ideal if I were to create the perfect girlfriend.

Despite all of the above, I am unequivocally crazy about her. The logical side of my brain very much would like me to calm the hell down because, again, I’ve only spent 4 hours in her company and there’s a ton of stuff that I don’t know about her. And there’s some stuff that I know about her that falls into the “cons” side of the ledger. And I’ve been single for almost exactly 4 years now, so history is not on my side. And I’ve only ended up going on more than 2 dates with 5 people since college, and only 3 in the past 4 years, so even if I like the chick there’s no guarantee that we’ll get anywhere near a relationship (if you are now thinking to yourself “Damn, Kyle, no girlfriends between the ages of 25-29? Have you considered the possibility that you might have Asperger's or something? Why am I bothering to read your blog if you’re so socially inept?” I don’t blame you. In defense of my blog, it tends to deal with matters of logic and reason, which tend to be mutually exclusive from relationships. Also I might have Asperger’s. Not really. But maybe. But I don’t think so.). Plus, in 2009 717 people died from getting tangled in their bedsheets, and if the trend of cheese consumption is any indication, there’s a chance she’ll die in her sleep and thwart this whole thing tomorrow. (Editor’s note: that may be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written.)

The other side of my brain doesn’t give a shit about any of that. It’s the honey badger. This side of my brain simply knows that I just went on the best first date I’ve ever had, I enjoyed the hell out of those 4 hours, and so did she. This side of my brain wants to defend irrationality because, you know what? I might be right. We might be as good of a match as I think we are. We might spend the foreseeable future together happily ever after. I really, really, really like this broad and she is, at the very least, feeling better than lukewarm toward me. We clicked, immediately. We have a very similar sense of humor and made each other laugh easily. We both appreciate the genius of movies like Billy Madison and Super Troopers. We’re both intelligent (she’s a vet, and I’m almost as smart as I think I am). We like drinking. She’s crazy-cute and I’m not entirely abhorrent. We’re both dog people. We converse swimmingly. To be honest, my goal in life at this moment is to prevent myself from getting too creepy/clingy too fast because I have such high hopes for the two of us.

I’m not really sure how to adequately convey how crazy I am about this girl. If she asked me to marry her tomorrow I would probably take my chances and say yes. If her house burned down on Tuesday I’d make room for her to move into mine on Wednesday. If she told me that her favorite band was Hanson or Creed or Nickelback or Justin Bieber I would still date her and work on not hating that band. These are all true statements.

I want to point out here that I am the most logical person that I know (obviously I’m biased, but still) and, again, everything that I’ve written about this girl is 100% true. After one date. How incredibly, ridiculously crazy is that?! The ridiculosity is off the charts! And yet, I can’t deny how strongly I feel this way despite knowing that it’s incredibly crazy to feel this way. I, the annoyingly super-logical dude, am admitting that I’m perfectly vulnerable to incredibly strongly held yet incredibly irrational beliefs. If you want to talk about cognitive dissonance and wishful thinking, I’ve got them both in spades.

</time travel>

Things have worked out incredibly well with Melissa, so in retrospect I don’t look as crazy as I thought I was at the time. Further evidence has proved that we are, in fact, a great match, so there’s no longer any wishful thinking involved...but there certainly was at the time.

So what’s my point here? I’ve gone through a few different phases regarding my views on religion. I was brought up Christian, so I spent the first two decades of my life believing in God. Then I started seriously thinking about the merits of Christianity and drifted toward agnosticism over the course of a few years. After more thinking and exposure to arguments against religion that I hadn’t previously heard, and particularly after learning more about how evolution works (a big sticking point for me when I was younger), I became an atheist. There was some anger involved when I became an atheist--religion just seemed so obviously wrong and I was mad that so many people still bought into it and made decisions based on it.

Shockingly, it turned out that the non-atheist people in my life weren’t big fans of the angry atheist phase, and some relationships were probably damaged as a result. Consequently I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why so many of these people, who I know to be intelligent, still cling to religion. There are a multitude of reasons, obviously, and I think the main one for many people is simply wishful thinking. After all, if I’m susceptible to bouts of insane irrationality about a girl and I’m normally an incredibly logical guy, how easy is it for people to become irrational when the topic comes to their relationship with a supposedly loving God? When the reward for that  irrationality is eternal bliss instead of eternal torture? When you’ve been brought up by your elders to think that these beliefs about God are not irrational, but a perfectly good explanation for life? When most of your peers share the same beliefs? When “God works in mysterious ways” is a convenient catch-all for everything that we can’t definitively explain? When your religion is built entirely upon faith and the idea that “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe?” When the things that you pray for occasionally come to pass? It’s pretty damn easy.

I’m not saying that Christians are entirely irrational, or that the only reason they believe in God is wishful thinking, but it definitely plays a part. I’ve spent a ton of words on this blog pointing out how illogical religion is, but the intellectually honest Christians admit that religion is illogical. They know it doesn’t make sense objectively, but they believe anyway. This still frustrates me since I don’t think faith is a virtue, but at least there are some semi-rational explanations for these irrational beliefs.

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