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The Future of the Rational

Updated on July 18, 2022
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People are always interested in the origins of the esoteric, and all that is part of human nature is one.

As I propose in my book, The Unsure Male, we are slowly heading into the age of the irrational. I was not at all comfortable with this thought, and perhaps nobody else too will be, since I could not show a reason, a force that can spark it. (My book tries to make it clear, how, once one takes a leaning, whether it is towards the rational, or not, certain aspects of life come to fore, encouraging one to go to the extremes of whatever is of interest currently.) With the idea of finding a spark, and something that can aid or abet such a shift, let me once again examine this issue from the beginning.

How Humans Turned Rational

To understand this better, let me see, how the human society as a whole embraced the rational, or why they chose to throw the irrational out. A question about the relevance itself, of an attribute such as rational, wouldn’t have come up in the natural course of living. You see, just like all other forms of life, humans too need to test their responses, like thoughts and actions, whether those are beneficial to life and living. But, we seem to have added another dimension to it, certain abstract notions that can lead one to override the natural response, if necessary. Which is what we identify as the rational.

If we are to observe closely, the human race, the desire to be rational is closely linked with age. Clear, unmistakable signs of a tilt away from the irrational can be seen, only after we cross maturity, and experience life a little more. Also, those shouldering responsibilities in life, like tending to domestic affairs, early, stand to lose the playful nature (the irrational twist in us) also, early. Hence, I think it will be correct to say, the experiences that matter to us the most, for example, those pertaining to issues like life and death, domestic harmony, or the desire for fun filled occasions, do influence us also, the most, while we acquire our nature, like playful, methodical, farsighted, or impulsive. Thus, to be rational, or otherwise, is not an innate disposition, and unmindful of its context. We, at any time, tend to choose the way that serves us the best. Something we experience after we mature, tilts the scale towards the rational. And, as we move towards old age, we start losing our clear tilt.

If the above is right, an examination of the ancient texts should be showing that each of our forefathers is a medley of the rational and the irrational, with the irrational having an edge over the other. And in fact, it does appear thus. Such texts are mostly tales of irrational twists and turns, with a few flashes of brilliant, thoughtful moves here and there.

I think it is the germs' theory of disease that made it a permanent tilt to the rational. It was a landmark in our struggle for survival. It brought to attention, the critical part played by microorganisms in a large variety of phenomena and its role in human health. As we started to dominate and influence such organisms, more and more threats, of varying form and significance, continued to get neutralized. And our style of living took an easier, but more adventurous and enjoyable path. In fact the multifaceted success story of human race, the era of exploration, the conquest of nature, to name a few, owe a lot to nothing else but this. In these matters, and those of life and death, being rational, delivered the best results. There was no looking back; and we continued to be thus.

How the Rational Prospered

Our decisive victory over germs effectively gifted us with a large kitty of spare time that is always looking for an outlet. Perhaps we began by imitating other species, copying style, substance, rivalries and friendships. As the idea of benefiting from the free time began to sink in, we started to immerse in whatever, the nature would offer. The unlimited possibilities that were in existence, both for perceiving, and reacting to every facet of nature differently, came to our aid, and we never had to look elsewhere, how much ever be the free time. I think that is the one, which led us to the discovery of arts, crafts, and science, all of which is nothing but the same stuff perceived in different ways. Even other areas of our interest, whether of entertainments, or engagements like exploration, or fight, are also born out of this. In fact all the art forms are nothing but our attempts to emulate activities found elsewhere, for example, among other beings, where the ones that catch our imagination get the prominence. The much celebrated industrial revolution, the single most significant reason for our distinctive lifestyle that sets us apart from all other living forms, can be seen as nothing else but an offshoot of our spare time activity.

What did Prosperity do

What has this victory done to us? We learned, germs, also called microbes, have a lot to do with all our health problems. Humans (and plants) could be seen as nothing (as far as health go) but a place for germs to live and multiply. Many methods evolved, to keep the growth of germs in check, while progressing smoothly, the natural elements of living. Like hand washing, taking care of hygiene, and keeping the immune system well nourished, which lessened health issues and expanded our life span. Further, advances in the sphere of health like inoculation, or arresting infant mortality, resulted in the human race expanding in an all out spree. And our spare time too, increased in geometric proportions.

And Prosperity Poses a Challenge

With that came the first real challenge, humans faced. How to keep oneself occupied even more, while remaining within the constraints of good hygiene. Significantly, unlike the earlier case, where they could formalize or extend the rudimentary exploits of some other form of life, here they did not have the luxury of finding something similar anywhere else. This was a challenge unique to humans.

An Imaginative Response to the Challenge

Our forefathers had to invent something new. It seems they took a very efficient, practical path to confront this issue. Few would devote themselves for coming up with fresh ideas, some others would spread those, and the rest would engage fiercely, looking at every avenue or corner of the human style of living to see where all it can fit in. So, at any time, a few suggestions or proposals would have been in the air, with the one that was most successful in getting accepted by the society getting applauded much. Such proposals or reasoning mostly belonged to the domain of the abstract, since those are never limited by a real constraint, like that of a material need. Over years, these proposals would have acquired high status, and was being identified as philosophy, the proponents of which becoming a revered lot. (Rather than taking efforts to explore such complex judgements or doctrines, and appreciate the ideas therein, or take even more trouble, and oppose it, it is always easier to admire, worship, or hold those in high esteem.)

Outcome of the Response

As time moved on, and as new principles, theories, inventions, and discourses flooded the activities of living, each such activity gave rise to many more ones. Which turned philosophy, a repository of all of those, into the most trusted companion in humans’ search for avenues to engage themselves. While at the same time, the earlier pastimes to catch our imagination, art, science, and all, were also witnessing fresh creations.

But all this did not take place in a disciplined way, naturally, since the very notion itself, of discipline, was yet to be born. As a result, the new theories, ideas, and all such stuff would have been germinating at random, just like all the natural variations or activities take place, both in the living and in the nonliving world. That would have been giving rise to a cacophonous ambience, wherever and whenever humans happen to be more than one. And the different faculties we have, like the many forms of arts, science, and other entities including the spiritual ones, owe its origin to this cacophony. Evidently, each such faculty would have been useful in separating many from such wild gatherings and immerse them in their own world, something of comfort to everyone. And a bright halo accompanied each, which we identified as the rational. Human race was growing in leaps and bounds, and the halo of the rational, a constant accompaniment of all that we do.

Outcome of the Outcome

What principle is now familiar to us through Lenz’s law or Newton’s third law of motion, can be seen here in action. That is, all the entities originating out of this cacophony effectively bringing the cacophony itself, to an end. This is where discipline was born, as a collective verb that denoted channelling such activity, of action or inaction, of all kinds, in a direction that is in consonance with one’s current priority.

Time moved on. Human memory kept adding to its load. The new entity of discipline, the outcome of the outcome, by severely limiting the cacophony, effectively applied a brake on the evolution of new ideas. The large variety of approaches that were taking place has been curtailed. The halo is now only a shadow of the former. However, human race will still progress, but only when there is no other way.

Now, wherever a change isn’t inevitable, discipline shall be forcing the present arrangement to continue, whether there are issues or not. Also, humans have been administering temporary solutions to issues, or living with it, where the issues are generally confined to a group or groups of people. (Since such groups, to a great extent, are mutually unaccommodating, the issues get absorbed in the resulting ruckus.) As a result, the present arrangement shall continue to be in force, unless it becomes unsustainable, for whatever reasons.

Outcome of the Outcome of the Outcome

And as a result, a new such big halo shall accompany an idea, only when there is a potential change, that too of substantial or mammoth proportions. By being indifferent to the rational, for example, because of constant association, human race effectively becomes irrational, except when there is a big change. As we are in the habit of enjoying the lingering halo that continues to color us as rational, even when we aren’t so, we accord abstract meanings that can appear rational, to whatever we are currently busy with. The final outcome therefore is that human race shall embrace the irrational, that too, without even realizing it.


To be occupied is a biological need, as far as humans go, like all other species of life. Humans, unlike other species, have a choice, whether to engage in rational pursuits, which acquire value by our engagement, or irrational ones, where we acquire value by engaging with it. Some time back, rational pursuits began endearing us with the novelty of its fruitful results, and we have been following that path. Such results, especially with the capacity to trigger popular imagination, are not as frequent now, as before. Irrational pursuits are ready and waiting to fill that vacuum.

© 2020 ROY T JAMES


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