Inspired by Lorenzo Barberis Canonico, “Christianity & Bioethics: How to Defeat Eugenics with Collective Intelligence”
Neurodiversity Overcomes Rational Impasses and Stops Eugenics
Morally and intellectually, rationality undermines itself without diverse thinking.
Lorenzo Barberis Canonico recently argued in a presentation that rational individuals in the Prisoner’s Dilemma will produce an irrational outcome, that the only way to break through this “trap of Game Theory” is for someone to act “nonrationally.” We make a point here not to say “irrationally,” for if the final outcome of a “nonrational” act is “the best outcome” for everyone involved (such as is the case in the Prisoner’s Dilemma), it wouldn’t make sense to call it “irrational.” And yet it doesn’t fit to say “rational” either, for those involved had to act against their (apparent) self-interest in order to achieve “the best outcome.”
Who acts nonrationally? Not people who think normally, funny enough, but this suggests that “thinking normally” isn’t always “thinking best.” In fact, in certain (Game Theory) situations, “thinking normally” is precisely what gets us into trouble. With dilemmas like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, if all we have is “the normal way of thinking,” we’ll easily never escape various “stuck states” where the benefits of rationality cancel one another out. I will call this state a “Rational Impasse,” which the famous “Nash Equilibrium” helps us identify. To offer a definition, a “Rational Impasse” is a situation in which rationality keeps itself from reaching its overall best outcome. It is when rationality “trips itself up,” like one of the Three Stooges — imagine a scene where all of the stooges try to race through the same door at the same time and end up stuck. No one “passes through”; everyone ends up worse off.
But how do we overcome Rational Impasses if rational and “normal ways of thinking” are what cause them? By being more rational? Lorenzo’s brilliant solution is neurodiversity, to include people in our systems, businesses, and the like who are not bound to “normal ways of thought.” This is similar to the thinking of the philosopher Giles Deleuze, who stressed “difference” as the key to escaping “normalities” and “capture.” Lorenzo focuses on diversity in the mind, which to me is genius, because if everyone in the world is wearing different outfits, creating new businesses, and expanding difference infinity on the surface, but the ways of thinking under that surface remain the same, consequential difference will prove lacking. Diversity will be an appearance. This isn’t to say Deleuze didn’t care about neurodiversity (he focused on schizophrenia, after all), only that I appreciate Lorenzo’s focus.
Lorenzo stresses the value which people on the spectrum add to enterprises, citing for example Michael Burry, the investor behind The Big Short, who made billions by doing someone that no one “in their right mind” would have ever done. Lorenzo then expands on the power of “collective intelligence” to generate, on average, better results than experts, and he notes that “a collective intelligence entailing neurodiversity” is the best tool for decision making. By dialectically arranging “the rational” and “nonrational” in conversation with one another, problems may become solvable that otherwise would never be overcome. We cannot let thinking be “locked in the normal,” for otherwise Rational Impasses could stop thinking.
Beautifully, Lorenzo uses his argument on how neurodiversity can break through Rational Impasses to uplift the marginalized. Lorenzo stresses the need to value people with Downs Syndrome, for example, as people who can think “nonrationally” and thus help us avoid Rational Impasses. If neurodiversity is our goal, the marginalized are likely to be a source of that diversity, precisely because people tend to be marginalized who don’t think like most people do (Foucault makes that clear). The impoverished, the orphaned, the downcast — all of these are much likelier sources for solving Rational Impasses than say Harvard and Yale.
Additionally, with the introduction and expansion of gene-editing technology, Lorenzo is adamite that the only way to stop eugenics from making a comeback in the 21st century is through a celebration of neurodiversity and understanding of its practical value in helping us overcome Rational Impasses. Individuals are increasingly able to figure out if their children will have Downs Syndrome before birth, and it will be tempting for these parents to abort their children (as is already happening). Telling people this or that is wrong will not be enough, Lorenzo stresses: a positive vision must also be presented, which is a vision Lorenzo offers.
Able to think “nonrationally,” not stuck in “the normal” like what concerned Foucault and Deleuze, the neurodiverse can be the “first movers” in producing new ways of thinking that save us from out-of-date systems and Rational Impasses. There is no telling what challenges the future will hold, but if we lack neurodiversity, from those challenges, we will struggle to break free.