Rationality and Optimality in Biology, Economics and Comparative Cognition

DISCIPLINE : BIOLOGY

Rationality and Optimality in Biology, Economics and Comparative Cognition

 Alex is interested in biological thinking about behaviour.

Abstract of his presentation: "The concept of rationality differs between psychology, philosophy, economics and biology. For psychologists and philosophers, the emphasis is on the process by which decisions aremade: rational beliefs are arrived at by reasoning and contrasted with beliefs arrived at by emotion, faith, authority or arbitrary choice. Economists emphasise consistency of choice, regardless of the process and the goal. Biologists use a concept that links both previous ideas. Following Darwin’s theory of natural selection, they expect animals to behave as if they had been designed to surpass the fitness of their conspecifics and use optimality to predict behaviour that might achieve this. I introduce the terms PP-rationality, E-rationality and B-rationality to refer to these three different conceptions, and explore the advantages and weaknesses of each of them. The concepts are first discussed and then illustrated with specific examples of animals’ (and plants’) behaviour, including the fulfilment of economic criteria for rationality, the ability to respond adaptively to risk, and the ability to reason in complex problem-solving.  I conclude that no single definition of rationality can serve the purposes ofall segments of the research community but that agreement on meanings and justifications for each stand is both necessary and possible."

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