Rational / Irrational

Rational                  -                    Irrational
Conscious               -                    Unconscious
Outer                      -                      Inner
Objective                -                     Subjective
Order                      -                    Chaos
Perfect                     -                    Flawed
Precise                     -                    Vague
Machine                   -                    Human
Solid                        -                    Liquid
Stasis                       -                     Motion
Defined                    -                    Undefined
Known                     -                    Unknown
Procedural                -                    Creative
Conventional            -                    Novel
Unity                        -                    Plurality
Simple                      -                    Complex
Perfect                      -                    Imperfect
Thinking                   -                     Intuition
Masculine                 -                   Feminine

Pathological rationality - that is, rationality unbounded - believes it can account for everything on its own terms. Its quest to explain - to make sense of things - is necessarily unending: a never-ending excavation in search of rock-bottom (or a Large Hadron Collider, in search of the God Particle).

Rationality can fill in part of the picture, but to flesh it out further we must use alternative methods of explanation. Rational objects, therefore, are not 'full' objects; they are approximations, always lacking something.

The rational attitude is outward-looking, towards the object. It is creative, in the sense that it orders, and looks for connections between things. It seeks to impose direction, logic, sense, and cohesion; to hold things still long enough so that they can be seen. Through reason we perceive things.

The irrational attitude is inwards-looking, towards the subject. It is destructive, in the sense that it seeks alternatives, and looks for what has been overlooked, or left out; and so smashes borders and explodes categories. Through irrationality we perceive the world between things, outside of things: we perceive everything else.

It is a fundamental error to try to subject our own fate at all costs to our will. Our will is a function regulated by reflection; hence it is dependent on the quality of that reflection. This, if it really is reflection, is supposed to be rational, i.e., in accord with reason.

But has it ever been shown, or will it ever be, that life and fate are in accord with reason, that they too are rational?

The further we go in the direction selected by reason, the surer we may be that we are excluding the irrational possibilities of life which have just as much right to be lived.

[C.G. Jung]
The Essential Jung, p.155

In short, one may say anything about the history of the world - anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can't say is that it's rational. The very word sticks in one's throat.

And, indeed, this is the odd thing that is continually happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational persons, sages and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible, to be, so to speak, a light to their neighbours simply in order to show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this world. And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly one.

Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with strange qualities? Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick.

He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself--as though that were so necessary-- that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar.

And that is not all: even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point. And if he does not find means he will contrive destruction and chaos, will contrive sufferings of all sorts, only to gain his point!

He will launch a curse upon the world, and as only man can curse (it is his privilege, the primary distinction between him and other animals), may be by his curse alone he will attain his object--that is, convince himself that he is a man and not a piano-key!

If you say that all this, too, can be calculated and tabulated--chaos and darkness and curses, so that the mere possibility of calculating it all beforehand would stop it all, and reason would reassert itself, then man would purposely go mad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point!

I believe in it, I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key! 
[Fyodor Dostoevsky]
Notes From Underground

When Neo awakens to the 'real world', he does not realise that what is seeing is paradise.

The world of the machines may look horrifying to human eyes, but viewed objectively it is a paradise: a harmonious, perfectly balanced eco-system; the summit of technological progress.

In this sense Agent Smith is the real hero of the piece, seeking to eradicate those forces that threaten his utopia. Human beings are like a virus, and it is our irrationality - our inexplicable propensity towards chaos - that makes us virulent. The only way that this contagion can be made safe is to channel it into a place where it cannot do any harm: into the virtual world of the matrix. Meanwhile, in the absence of chaos order reigns supreme. The world of the machines is rationality taken to its reductio ad absurdum, the kind of totalitarian purgatory that inveitably results when you dispense with one half of a binary; when Yang beats Yin; when rationality conquers irrationality.

Neo looks out at paradise and is horrified.

He wants his games, his imbalance, his imperfection, his irrationality. He wants to be human. This is the unfortunate truth that lurks on the periphery of every utopian vision: that none of would really want paradise if we knew what it truly meant.


I use this term not as denoting something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something therefore, not grounded on reason.

The irrational is an existential factor which, though it may be pushed further out of sight by an increasingly elaborate rational explanation, finally makes the explanation so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension, the limits of rational thought being reached long before the whole of the world could be encompassed by the laws of reason.

A completely rational explanation of an object that actually exists (not one that is merely posited) is a Utopian ideal. Only an object that is posited can be completely explained on rational grounds, since it does not contain anything beyond what has been posited by rational thinking. Empirical science, too, posits objects that are confined within rational bounds, because by deliberately excluding the accidental it does not consider the actual object as a whole, but only that part of it which has been singled out for rational observation.

Although the irrational as such can never become the object of science, it is of the greatest importance for a practical psychology that the irrational factor should be correctly appraised. Practical psychology stirs up many problems that are not susceptible of a rational solution, but can only be settled irrationally, in a way not in accord with the laws of reason. The expectation or exclusive conviction that there must be a rational way of settling every conflict can be an insurmountable obstacle to finding a solution of an irrational nature.

[C. G. Jung]
Psychological Types (1991), p. 454-5

 [...] all chains of definitions must start with undefined terms, whose meaning can be exemplified but not defined.

All definitions, so-called 'operational definitions' included, can only shift the problem of the meaning of the term in question to the definining term.

Thus the demand for definitions leads to an infinite regress unless we admit so-called primitive terms, that is undefined terms.

[Karl Popper]
The Open Society and its Enemies, p. 59, 276

Imagine trying to describe a brook. A running brook is never the same. New water flows past, working away, little by little, at the banks. From moment to moment it is a different brook. To talk about a brook we have to find a constant aspect of it.

To perform any rational operation concerning the brook we must consider it unchanging, treat it as if it were the same.

Language and rational processes both hold experience constant. 

To behave rationally, one uses categories formed in the past. "I'll meet you at the brook we went to yesterday." We can map its course as of today, measure its acidity at a certain point. Each time we treat it as the very same brook.

An artist or writer, however, might choose not to hold it but simply to experience the dynamic nature of the brook, to sit by it and become open to its "brookness."  

We call this approach mindful or intuitive; it bypasses old categories and rational thinking.

The dancer Isadora Duncan, whose art is by definition motion and change, said, "If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it."

Out of an intuitive experience of the world comes a continuous flow of novel distinctions. Purely rational understanding, on the other hand, serves to confirm old mindsets, rigid categories.

"It is by logic that we prove. It is by intuition that we discover," said the mathematician Henri PoincarĂ©.  

In dealing with the world rationally, we hold it constant, by means of categories formed in the past. Through intuition, on the other hand, we grasp the world as a whole, in flux.

[Ellen Langer]
Mindfulness, p.116, 117

Even when faced with clearly complex problems that undergo fundamental changes while being solved (“diagnosis equals intervention”), these heirs of the Enlightenment insist on reductionist thoroughness in hope of full knowledge and perfect prediction.

But, as Evans & Reid note: “Reason imagines nothing. It cannot create and thus it cannot transform. [...] It is not made for opening up new worlds, but enabling us to survive present ones.”

[Rasmus Dahlberg]
'Resilience and Complexity: Conjoining the Discourses of Two Contested Concepts', Culture Unbound, Vol. 7, p. 554

Ernest Renan […] expressed the famous idea that logic excludes - by definition - nuances, and since truth resides exclusively in the nuances, it is “a useless instrument for finding Truth in the moral and political sciences.”

So the reader can see how the ancients saw naive rationalism: by impoverishing - rather than enhancing - thought, it introduces fragility. They knew that incompleteness - half-knowledge - is always dangerous.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 256-7

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