On Being Irrational
At 3:14pm on March 14th (3/14), two astronauts and one cosmonaut launched on a Soyuz rocket from a Russian cosmodrome, and began a roughly six hour trip to chase down the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the earth. On the face of it, this was like many previous Soyuz launches over the past years on which US astronauts have been transported to the ISS.
However, this launch was unique in one particular way. Two of the three folks on this flight had been part of a virtually identical rocket launch five months or so ago. On that launch, things did not go as planned, and the launch abort safety system had to be activated a few minutes after liftoff. The abort system worked as planned, and both made a hard but safe landing back to earth.
Let me ask you a question. If you had been part of a “successful launch abort” (an euphemism for a ‘failure’ to reach orbit) five months ago, would you strap yourself into the very same launch system and be willing to be rocketed back into space? The rational being would evaluate the odds and say – heck no – or at least hesitate. However, human beings, and particularly space-faring cadets are not exactly known for being the most rational of beings.
In fact, most of us, even though we may not admit it, are largely irrational. It is perhaps this very irrationality, and the number PI, that NASA/RosCosmos were celebrating, when they picked 3:14pm on 3/14 for the launch date and time. The space-cadets probably did some probability theory mathematics and figured – what are the odds that they would be involved in two launch failures within five months? Probably zero. Sounds rational, doesn’t it?
Enough about space. Let’s get back to earth for a minute. We have all, at some point or another in our lives, made some very irrational choices. They might have seemed very rational in the moment, but in hindsight, not so logical. How many times have we (irrationally) told ourselves that the stock that we are holding on to, or the investment that is currently half its original value, will recover? Or that the book that we are lending out, the money that we are loaning to a family member or friend, will be returned to us? And so on.
We want to believe that we are rational beings, and that (more often than not) we make rational choices. We want to believe that we don’t have confirmation bias or proximity bias or survivorship bias. We want to believe that our beliefs are all of our own discovery, and that they will somehow lead us to truth. I believe all of those things, although I do often wonder – can truth and irrationality coexist?
The truth is that we are better at being irrational than being rational. I posit that irrationality is what becomes us more, and serves us better. Yes. We need the fuel of irrationality – some call it belief turning into faith. How else does a parent or teacher or coach, in the midst of the state of our world, hold out hope that they are working towards creating a better world? How else does a first-responder risk their own life to try and save the life of a total stranger?
Yes. We need irrationality to launch us out of analysis paralysis. We need to believe in the infinite, non-repeatable beauty of every moment of life. Just like all the infinite, non-repeating decimals of the irrational number that we science and math and life loving folks celebrate on pi(e) day. I can’t wait to see what 3.14.2020 will bring.
My irrational hope is that it will bring a lot of chocolate silk pie, and another successful rocket launch. How about you? What’s your hope?
P.S1. Yes. The Soyuz MS-12 capsule caught up to the ISS and docked with it at 9:01pm on 3/14. Expedition 59 was ten minutes ahead of schedule.
P.S2. Why is PI irrational? It is because it cannot be expressed as a fraction. Yes, 22/7 is the common representation. But mathematically, it isn’t so. PI is actually equal to (four times the inverse tangent of 1 radian).
P.S3. Yes. We will be gathering in #spiritchat on Sunday, March 17th at 9amET on twitter. I look forward to asking some questions of all you irrational beings. And yes. There will be pie. Join us. And much gratitude to @Kalsekhar for the topic idea!
The Pi(e) Day Storm – is nature irrational?