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Are we Rational or Intuitive?

Reason is the power of mind to think logically. Intuition is the ability to reach knowledge without going through reasoning. Most humans, even if we are foolish, consider ourselves 'reasonable'. Therefore, as the thoughtful, prudent people we supposedly are, we act by reflection and choice, and have freewill. Do we ever see us as intuitive or instinctive?  Very little and very seldom. How wrong we seem to be!

Our behavior, as neurologists and neuropsychologists know now, is more intuitive than rational, more thoughtless than conscious. The guild of advertising, however, is the exception to this ‘inhuman’ trend; marketing experts have known for quite some time the way most people make their decisions. They, the advertising professionals, are quite intuitive and know well the tricks of our subconscious; for years, they have taken advantage of the collective lack of common sense. Marketing experts not only are intuitive, they also know how to manipulate other people’s instincts.

Until rather recently, we used to memorize and repeat TV and radio ads, paying no attention to their contents. Few believed commercials were harmful, and most everybody considered them worthless when not silly, despite their undeniable impact on sales. Overnight, technological developments changed most everything and modern advertising entered worrisome levels.

With the massification of laptops, tablets and smart phones, we no longer search for ads , instead ads search for us; we are all so ingrained in our computers that we do not even realize that we are jeopardizing any level of freewill we might still have.

Let us clarify this with an example. Recently I searched in Internet for oil change specials, printed a rebate coupon and moved next to a Colombian digital newspaper. Right there, displayed in 'first' page, an ad featuring specials for oil, tires and batteries, in a place very close to my home, ‘telepathically’ popped up. Has it happened something similar to you? If the answer is ‘no’, either you may have missed the ads (although your subconscious certainly has not) or you never buy through Internet. I doubt no ad has ever looked for you. In 2013, online advertising cost one hundred twenty-five billion dollars (125 plus nine zeros), a quarter of the global advertising budget.

The sophisticated programs that advertisers are using today keep track, 24/7, of all the web sites we visit and, from our searches and interactions, they infer resume, balance sheet, family size, social circle, hobbies... According to 'The Economist', the database of an unidentified company handles one billion potential customers with some fifty attributes of each person. Says the English magazine: “Behavioral profiling has gone viral across the Internet, enabling firms to reach users with specific messages based on their location, interests, browsing history and demographic group. Ads can now follow users from site to site”.

While I consider myself quite rational, I am starting to believe that the Homo sapiens of the technology age is not so much. That we are neural robots is a statement with which I sympathize but... we, robots, are supposed to be rational, intelligent, autonomous… Aren't we?

The case is far from closed. Arguing that there is too much naivety in some of the scientific studies, evolutionary philosopher Daniel Dennett defends freewill and believes that there is still much material to cut in the dispute. My ‘intuition’ hopes this atheist thinker is right.

There is no immediate conclusion about the presence or absence of freewill in our actions; the answer would seem to be somewhere in the middle with the acceptance of special circumstances under which we do have certain power over our decisions. Although my position is shaky, yes, I dare to assert that, wherever that intermediate conditioning is found, our rational power of decision, giving the refined third-millennium marketing and advertising technology, is losing weight and it will be increasingly difficult to argue in its favor, in some not so distant future.

Atlanta, October 26, 2014

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