This article is thought-provoking: Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth. It presents the latest idea among scholars that the human ability to reason evolved not to ultimately "find truth," but instead to be able to win an argument. The debate currently revolving around this "argumentative theory of reasoning" is seemingly quite vicious, but it makes perfect sense. I think it definitely "offers profound insight into the way people think and behave."
The authors of the journal article were seeking an explanation for "why people persisted in picking out evidence that supported their views and ignored the rest - what is know as confirmation bias - leading them to hold on to a belief doggedly in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence." (This is something we battle constantly in matters of public health.) One of the co-authors of the journal article presenting this idea stated: "Reasoning doesn't have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions... it was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us. Truth and accuracy were beside the point."
Another interesting point made is: "the limits of reason can be overcome by putting people together in the right way, in particular to challenge people's confirmation biases" and "as people became better at producing and picking apart arguments, their assessment skills evolved as well."
This was so interesting because recently a young woman described to me her current upper level high school math class. At the time I thought this was absurd. Her class is divided into groups. Each day they are given new math problems surrounding a general concept. There is no teacher instruction. If her group cannot figure out a new concept, he refers them to another group for help. An author of this article explained: "Groups are more likely than individuals to come up with better results... because they will be exposed to the best arguments, and "children may have an easier time learning abstract topics in mathematics or physics if they are put into a group and allowed to reason through a problem together."
There are a lot of implications in this research. And a lot of possible applications. Especially in public health, where our focus is on changing unhealthy behaviors of individuals and populations. This could be useful in small group discussions involving breast feeding, healthy eating, smoking, other addictions, etc. It could be particularly useful in a foreign setting where a "Westerner" enters the scene and attempts to teach local individuals about changing health habits. I think there can be great power in reasoning with one's peers to find an acceptable solution, rather than "being told what to do."
Well, some-times, that is.