November 10, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Monkey See, Monkey Rationalize

It’s a quirk of English that rational and rationalize have opposite meanings.  Be that as it may, the latter may have evolved into to the former, according to a story in the New York Times.  A monkey study using children as control subjects seems to indicate that Capuchin monkeys, like us, occasionally rationalize bad choices.
    Expecting animals to exhibit subsets of human behaviors may be one thing, but the article transformed the monkeyshines into a tale of human evolution:

For half a century, social psychologists have been trying to figure out the human gift for rationalizing irrational behavior.  Why did we evolve with brains that salute our shrewdness for buying the neon yellow car with bad gas mileage?

The results of experiments with the monkeys were equivocal.  Nevertheless, reporter John Tierney chose the interpretation that rationalizing bad choices, also called cognitive dissonance, has positive evolutionary value; it conserves energy that would be spent second-guessing our bad decisions.  But then, how would we know this is not his own sour grapes for dismissing intelligent design?

The compulsion to justify decisions may seem irrational, and maybe petty, too, like the fox in Aesop’s fable who stopped trying for the grapes and promptly told himself they were sour anyway.  But perhaps Aesop didn’t appreciate the evolutionary utility of this behavior for humans as well as animals.

For assuming evolution, for promoting a monkey’s wisdom over Aesop’s, and for elevating cognitive dissonance as a Darwinian virtue, we award Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week to Mr. John Tierney.  Congratulations; enjoy your trip.

No sour grapes here.  We love it when the Darwinists make fools of themselves.  As for us, we try to ration our rashness.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, Mammals

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