The Straw Vulcan: Hollywood’s illogical approach to logical decisionmaking

I gave a talk at Skepticon IV last weekend about Vulcans and why they’re a terrible example of rationality. I go through five principles of Straw Vulcan Rationality(TM), give examples from Star Trek and from real life, and explain why they’re mistaken:

  1. Being rational means expecting everyone else to be rational too.
  2. Being rational means you should never make a decision until you have all the information.
  3. Being rational means never relying on intuition.
  4. Being rational means eschewing emotion.
  5. Being rational means valuing only quantifiable things — like money, productivity, or efficiency.

In retrospect, I would’ve streamlined the presentation more, but I’m happy with the content —  I think it’s an important and under-appreciated topic. The main downside was just that everyone wanted to talk to me afterwards, not about rationality, but about Star Trek. I don’t know the answer to your obscure trivia questions, Trekkies!


UPDATE: I’m adding my diagrams of the Straw Vulcan model of ideal decisionmaking, and my proposed revisions to it, since those slides don’t appear in the video:

The Straw Vulcan view of the relationship between rationality and emotion.

After my revisions.

11 Responses to The Straw Vulcan: Hollywood’s illogical approach to logical decisionmaking

  1. Gordon says:

    I thought this was a great talk. I liked that you could illustrate your points with Star Trek, but you could probably have used the Big Bang Theory too.

    So thanks. Thanks a lot.

  2. Kevin says:

    I loved this talk from start to finish.

  3. opcnup says:

    I recently rewatched large chunks of Voyager. It astounded me how much I like the franchise while disliking each episode strongly for things like this.

  4. beriukay says:

    Thanks for putting up the slides! I was very frustrated when the camera didn’t pan to the revised version.

  5. Max says:

    It’s so nice, I wanna hear the same talk twice.

    As I recall, when Dan Ariely was talking about his book, The Upside of Irrationality, he said a rational person would cheat and steal if he knew he could get away with it. So you see, being rational means being a selfish immoral parasite. And you thought Spock was bad.

    An old illustration of reliance on intuition is a centipede that starts to think about how it walks, and immediately trips. You couldn’t walk or ride a bike if you had to think about every movement.

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