How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of

How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality [PDF / EPUB] How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality In the United States at the height of the Cold War, roughly between the end of World War II and the early s, a new project of redefining rationality commanded the attention of sharp minds, powerful po In the United States Almost Lost Epub á at the height of the Cold War, roughly between the end of World War II and the early How Reason PDF/EPUB or s, a new project of redefining rationality commanded the attention of sharp minds, powerful politicians, wealthy foundations, and top military brass Its home Reason Almost Lost ePUB ¹ was the human sciences psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, among others and its participants enlisted in an intellectual campaign to figure out what rationality should mean and how it could be deployed How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind brings to life the people Herbert Simon, Oskar Morgenstern, Herman Kahn, Anatol Rapoport, Thomas Schelling, and many others and places, including the RAND Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Cowles Commission for Research and Economics, and the Council on Foreign Relations, that played a key role in putting forth a Cold War rationality Decision makers harnessed this picture of rationality optimizing, formal, algorithmic, and mechanical in their quest to understand phenomena as diverse as economic transactions, biological evolution, political elections, international relations, and military strategy The authors chronicle and illuminate what it meant to be rational in the age of nuclear brinkmanship.


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10 thoughts on “How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality

  1. says:

    A brilliant ensemble cast intellectual history of the debates over how to define rationality during the cold war, a debate that began in the pressure cooker of WWII operations research, achieved a chain reaction at RAND in the first postwar decade, mushroomed in economics via game theory, and then delivered its fallout across the social sciences which the authors insist on calling the human sciences , and most particularly in psychology The central argument of the book is that what the ratio A brilliant ensemble cast intellectual history of the debates over how to define rationality during the cold war, a debate that began in the pressure cooker of WWII operations research, achieved a chain reaction at RAND in the first postwar decade, mushroomed in economics via game theory, and then delivered its fallout across the social sciences which the authors insist on calling the human sciences , and most particularly in psychology The central argument of the book is that what the rationality theorists did was to strip away from the much broader and older Enlightenment concept of reason as many elements as possible such as judgment, taste, fairness, understanding, imagination, etc to produce a powerfully reductive formal concept of rationality that was independent of personality or context, and that was therefore amenable to algorithmic expression through a series of simple, unambiguous, sequential steps that could be reproduced mechanically in particular in the new digital computers that were just beginning to become available In particular, the concept of the universally transitively consistent preference maximizing homo economicus became THE ideal of what rationality was supposed to mean.But the deep revelation of the book is that the very effort to create such a powerfully simple concept of reason repeatedly ran up against and indeed revealed the limits of reason as actually practiced by actually existing humans, particularly with respect to the highest stakes question of the time, namely the strategic nuclear rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union Herbert Simon, for example, realized that maximization was not always an ahem reasonable objective, since the computing power required to resolve the most complex algorithms was not readily available Reaching good enough minimum thresholds what Simon called satisficing was often aappropriate objective for many categories of problem.Part of the subtle cheekiness of the book, which was written collectively the authors claim they used a algorithm to assign chapter authorships randomly and with surprising style and wit, is that it insists on using a method that is, paying close ethnographic attention to the social and institutional contexts, the shared sociabilities, for the production of these Cold War ideas about rationality which is directly at odds with the definition of rationality as calculation that their subjects were trying to distill Yet at the same time, the authors deeply appreciate the ways in which the men they write about and they were almost all men used their powerful set of ideas to gain purchase on the most pressing problems of their era, and to use that purchase to gain access to the highest corridors of power in Washington.The only significant flaw of the book is that while it nods briefly to the absence of similar sorts of debates in the Soviet Union they note that there was some Soviet work in cybernetics, but they hypothesize, somewhat limply, that Marxist dialectical materialism prevented the methodological innovations that the Americans were undertaking , it does not do nearly enough to account for how and why Cold War rationality was a peculiarly American phenomenon After all it wasn t just Soviet and Chinese Communists who didn t play the Cold War rationality game neither did intellectuals in Britain, France, or Germany


  2. says:

    This book came at the topic of rationality from a very interesting perspective It s full of neat factoids, but doesn t really cohere as a book I d still recommend reading it if you re interested in this area, but only if you re very interested.My main takeaway was that many of the flaws in the rational agent model were known to people who helped formalize it, though they still tried to use it for making some of the most consequential decisions ever made Some interesting tidbits 1 An especial This book came at the topic of rationality from a very interesting perspective It s full of neat factoids, but doesn t really cohere as a book I d still recommend reading it if you re interested in this area, but only if you re very interested.My main takeaway was that many of the flaws in the rational agent model were known to people who helped formalize it, though they still tried to use it for making some of the most consequential decisions ever made Some interesting tidbits 1 An especially damning criticism was that the main players in the game of nuclear brinksmanship were actually constituted of a group of people trying to make a decision But it was known at the time that there is no way to always aggregate group preferences into a consistent set of preferences e.g by Arrow s impossibility theorem , so that made the assumption that the USSR or the US would act rationally pretty suspect It seemed like Schelling was trying to study this further but didn t get very far.2 The development of linear programming was very closely related to the Berlin Airlift and the US Air Force I had only been exposed to it in a computer science context, so I wasn t aware this was an active area of economics research at that time.3 The Soviets didn t have a similar collection of rationality theorists to the US, though they became enad of Norbert Wiener s cybernetics I wish this had been coveredin this book, since it would have been pretty interesting.4 There was apparently a lot of anthropology and psychology research going on in Micronesia at the same time that nuclear tests were destroying much of it.There were some weak points of the book The first was that the writing style changed abruptly, especially across chapters, which is a bit jarring At least one of the authors was not very good at clarity or concision, though much of the book had competent prose The vantage point of the book was a also bit odd, as they didn t seem to want to let history give verdicts on anything For example, linear programming is a totally accepted if mature technology with an enormous set of applications and accomplishments Yet it was described in the same tentative way as a lot of the discussion about selfish rational agents Similarly, Bayesian probability isn t discussed much, but when it is mentioned, it s lumped in with the mishmash of other ideas this book is about But Bayesian probability is pretty widely accepted today as a useful set of tools for conducting science, and is even gaining significant ground over frequentist statistics.There seemed to be some philosophical confusion about the applications of game theory in evolutionary biology, where the authors seemed to think that the life forms undergoing evolution would have to have some understanding of strategies in multiplayer games I may have misunderstood this part of the book, but it sure seemed like a pretty basic error in their understanding of the science Separately, Kahnemann Tversky s heuristics and biases program was incongruously declared to be part of the same rationality research program the book was criticizing, when it seems like they were pretty obviously doing a muchsuccessful critique of the rationality modeling described in earlier chapters A bunch of extremely unconvincing critiques of their research were very briefly mentioned, but not described in enough detail to allow the reader to make any kind of determination In any case, the chapter covering behavioral economics didn t seem to reach any coherent points, and could ve benefited from some editing


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