A reconsideration of the basis of human rationality and the apparently predictable detours from its perfect exercise.
Debut author Stroh attempts to solve a perennial philosophical riddle: Why do otherwise rational actors make egregiously irrational decisions? The author keenly assesses the limitations of the available theories on the subject—cognitive bias, for example—but finds the whole lot of them wanting, too susceptible to counterfactual repudiation and too limited in scope. Stroh ambitiously argues that the only adequate theory will be a comprehensive one that includes a full rendering of the nature of human cognition and draws from neuroscience, economics, evolutionary psychology, and genetics. He calls this Motivational Drive Trait Theory. The author describes the human mind as a combination of inherited, prefabricated circuitry and more elastic neurons that adapt to new experiences and store new information. That neurophysiological complex doesn’t function insularly, but rather in the context of a social ecosystem that presents and reinforces a web of influences not reducible to the rational maximization of interest. For example, a preoccupation with status is a principal catalyst of human motivation, and what counts as status is relative to a specific group dynamic. And while the machinery of each individual mind idiosyncratically develops over time, there are identifiable types into which all individuals fall. This holistic account of human intellection furnishes, according to Stroh, the key to understanding the totality of human behavior, not just consumer decision-making, but also ideological extremism, international affairs, and the rise and fall of civilizations. Stroh’s account is stunningly thorough and philosophically searching. Despite his reliance upon neuroscience for the construction of his theory, he still presents a sophisticated argument in defense of free will. Also, his prose is marvelously lucid considering the technically prohibitive nature of the subject. Some of his conclusions seem shaky—given the extraordinary complexity of the mind as he presents it, one could just as confidently conclude that it must be resistant to meaningful prediction. Nevertheless, this is an intellectually engaging study and a valuable contribution to debates regarding the nature of human behavior.
A model combination of scientific punctiliousness and popular accessibility.