The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber

This book contends with the question of what makes us human by taking us through the history of philosophical ponderings from Descartes to Martin Luther King, from Hermann von Helmholtz to Nietzsche. The authors step us through their theory regarding the purpose of reason and why it developed in humans. Examples demonstrate why we work best in communities and why scrutiny is essential to determine the best ideas. An explanation of how reason and logic sit side by side comfortably with gut instincts and inference and how they are really all part of the same continuum. What is unique about humans was proposed and in this time of technology, this theory reinforces how this cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence. This is another arrow in the defence of soft skills and their importance to human success in combination with logic.

The manuscript examines critical thought around why reason has developed only in humans. It proposes that it is not separate to cognition but a metacognitive skill that helps us rationalise our actions and decisions to ourselves and others. Quotes from Martin Luther King are used to postulate it is flawed to use reason to justify faith or religion; indicating reason is only useful in certain contexts. The authors also suggest some of the inferences we come to are so fast that we are not aware of the cognitive processes involved in coming to these decisions and that our perceptions are informed and misinformed by previous experience. The evolution of reason, they argue, is to rationalise actions and this can come to good conclusions when these rationalisations are analysed by a group with similar goals. This springs from the fact that people are better at evaluating than producing arguments and human irrationality is corrected when assessed by others. It explains why we work better as a community and highlights how precisely we have evolved to be a social species.

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