Can You Be “Too Rational”?
Sanity exists on a spectrum, ranging from the supremely rational to the supremely irrational. Instinctively, we know that too much irrationality is dangerous. While it’s okay to be a little mad — Silke-Maria Weineck says it’s ‘even considered quite charming’ — too much madness and you’ll end up self-destructing.
But what about supreme rationality? Is it possible to be too rational?
According to Hans Blumenberg, the sort of rationality unleashed by the Enlightenment was all too ready to destroy things ‘for which no rational foundation is given’. It tore down institutions that, for centuries, served purposes that ‘cannot be demonstrated in every case’. The ‘original functionality’, ‘the selective advantage’ of these institutions appear only after they have been sacrificed — expressing themselves in an ‘epidemic of psychopathologies, including anxiety, depression, panic and increased suicide rates and cases of mass murder’ (Campagna). Thus, Blumenberg concludes, ‘it can be rational not to be rational to the utmost extent’.
Relatedly, Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky both declared an increase in consciousness to be a disease — ‘perhaps even more dangerous than a decrease’ (Weineck). In his book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, Thomas Ligotti goes as far as to call the evolution of consciousness a ‘calamitous event’ and ‘parent of all horrors’; quoting Peter Wessel Zapffe, who writes that:
[Consciousness is a] breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily — by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn one edge toward himself
Consciousness, like rationality, can be self-destructive. This is why Nietzsche cheekily asks why we pursue truth — that ‘hazardous enterprise’. ‘Why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance?’