Rational mind? (was:Could this be true?)

20 Jan 2005 - 2:42pm
11 years ago
1 reply
770 reads
Petteri Hiisilä

Listera kirjoitti 20.01.2005 kello 20:24:
> David Heller:
> > In general I think it ridiculous to ask people to say how they will or
> > will not prejudice their decisions. the human mind is an amazing thing
> > and we rationalize our bad and unethical decisions all the time.
> Precisely.

Yes, precisely.

I never get tired of two books, namely Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works" and Antonio R. Damasio's "Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain". If you haven't read them, please let me share this info with you:

If you think that you're rational, think again. You aren't! I'm not. No one is. There exists almost no reasoning without emotion. Actually, real-life reasoning is quite impossible without emotion. Emotions are required to limit the set of available scenarios at any given time. There's gazillions of tiny and big decisions to do every day, and somehow your mind works its way through them.

Here's a practical example:

Do you need an umbrella, if it rains just a little bit at the moment, and you don't want to carry the ambrella around if the weather gets sunny soon, as forecasted? You'll propably see a scenario of yourself walking in a sudden rain. In another mental image you have carry the umbrella around when there's was no rain at all. You might see some other scenarios too. Now, how would you feel in each of these scenarios? You'd make your decision based on which scenario feels best!

Of course, this scenario creation happens automagically in a matter of seconds, or less than a second. The bigger the decision, the more time it takes. It all happens "under the hood". It's a little bit like computation, but only very different from what the CPU does.

Medical history knows a lot of patients who have a flawed ability to process emotions. Many of them perform perfectly in every psychological and IQ lab test they go through, but still cannot survive through normal, everyday life without external help. They just can't make reasonable, rational decisions anymore. They see too many options, or can't decide between the set of options at hand, because all the options seem "rationally" ok.

Edge.org also discusses about these things every now and then, for example:

"We are the only animals that can peer deeply into our futures—the only animal that can travel mentally through time, preview a variety of futures, and choose the one that will bring us the greatest pleasure and/or the least pain. [...] Our ability to simulate the future and to forecast our hedonic reactions to it is seriously flawed, and that people are rarely as happy or unhappy as they expect to be."



I like this reasoning-is-based-on-scenarios-and-is-mostly-automatic -theory, because it seems to be perfectly in line with Interaction Design theory and practice :)

I believe that design personas and scenarios are so powerful, because they utilize this automatic process of evaluating the best, most likely, most profitable, most useful (etc.) choise between multiple options, which all could theoretically happen. They help us understand the difference between what's likely and what's not. And the way our mind works supports this tool.

To be a good developer, you have to learn your mind to walk through all the possible cases and accommodate for all of them. To be a good interaction designer, it helps to do the same long walk to capture all the tiny details of a given user role (that's research), but you also have to be able to walk the same path "backwards" when you create and prioritize the design scenarios (modeling & requirements).

In self-referential design and "the elastic user" design you don't do this background walk, but your decision-making machine prioritizes between the gazillion scenarios that you yourself or the elastic user might encounter with the software. You flood your ability to make decisions with too many possible scenarios. And since your mind has no humane design target, it cannot "compute" the user's _emotions_ in that scenario. No emotions --> no rational decisions. Story of our software!

Personas help you to use your decision-making machinery to work with a more realistic design target and a limited set of high-priority scenarios. Since your mind works like this, why don't you too? :)


Petteri Hiisilä
Palveluarkkitehti / Interaction Designer /
Alma Media Interactive Oy / NWS /
+358505050123 / petteri.hiisila at almamedia.fi

"I know what I believe. I will continue to believe
what I believe and what I believe - I believe what
I believe is right."

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20 Jan 2005 - 3:33pm

Petteri Hiisilä:

> Of course, this scenario creation happens automagically in a matter of
> seconds, or less than a second.

You'll probably like this book also:

Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell

Nullius in Verba

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