Rationalism, the Grand Narrative


Brooks tells the story of The Grand Narrative, a long philosophical tradition stemming from Plato and ancient Greece. ‘

The tradition, rationalism, tells the story of human history as the story of the progress of the logical, conscious mind. It sees human history as a contest between reason, the highest human faculty, and passion and instinct, our animal natures. In the upbeat version of this story, reason gradually triumphs over emotion. Science gradually replaces myth. Logic wins out over passion. 

This great progression helped launch the scientific method, the results of which are unbelievable… just take any one of the great sciences. Physics, chemistry, and biology all have this line of thinking to thank. However, Brooks says that when rationalism made its way to the science of organizing society, it went astray.

This mode of thought is reductionist; it breaks problems into discrete parts and is blind to emergent systems. It assumes that social scientists (and managers) can look at society objectively from the outside, purged of passions and unconscious biases. It highly values conscious cognition – what you might call level 2 cognition – which it can see, quantify, formalize, and understand. But it is blind to the influence of the unconscious – what you might call level 1 cognition – which is cloud-like, nonlinear, hard to see, and impossible to formalize. Rationalists have a tendency to lop off or diminish all information that is not calculable according to their methodologies. 


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