Because Rationality Is Bounded

We abandoned the idea that people are perfectly rational choosers.                                                     Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, 2011

I have been writing about non rational decision making since 1989. So have a lot of well known writers. Herbert Simon was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision making. Daniel Kahneman also won a Nobel Prize for his work in psychology that challenged the rational model of judgement and decision making.

Bounded rationality is the idea that when individuals make decisions, their rationality is limited by the available information, the tractability of the decision problem, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the time available to make the decision. Decision-makers in this view act as “satisfiers” seeking a satisfactory solution rather than an optimal one.

A rationality that is challenged and bounded doesn’t need decision making formulas or recipes. Decision making is more like learning to ride a bicycle than following a set of rules, (to paraphrase many others). Below Is a short list of my assumptions about non-rational decision making and some supportive quotes by well known others. Because decision making is so complex, these statements offer some realistic and practical suggestions that are not to be considered advice or recipes.

Trying to be rational is rational; always expecting to be isn’t.

  • Be rational, unless there’s a good reason not to be. Ashleigh Brilliant
  • Science can assist us in becoming more skilled choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art.  Sheena Iyengar

The future is uncertain; this uncertainty allows/requires us to be creative.

  • Indecision is the basis for flexibility. Murphy’s Law
  • Doubt is the beginning, not the ending of wisdom. George Illes

  Goals are to guide you, not govern you.

  • Decision making should be as much a process of discovering goals as achieving goals.                       James March
  • Be  open to outcome, not attached. Angeles Arrien

What you see is not all there is; keep your mind’s eye on what you don’t see.

  • In all visual things there is a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton
  • When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change, Wayne Dyer.

 P.S.  Maybe we each need a personal decision making rule of thumb. Definition: A rule of thumb is an easy-to-remember guide that falls somewhere between a mathematical formula and shot in the dark. Tom Parker


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  1. Eugene Unger says:

    H, how would WE discuss the recent election results within Positive Uncertainty? Not winners and losers but voters? Fascinating !! Who would have thunk it? I will not gloat 🙏



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