Don't Drink the Kool-Aid!
Unfortunately, not every claim by a scientist is true:
An interesting article! I think that you brought up rationality in a sense that has more to do with academic notions of what is “ideal” than with the real world. It’s understandable, since most formal education (particularly in economics departments!) focuses on this notion!
Herbert Simon was, as far as I’m aware, the first academic to point out that expecting people to act ‘rationally’ is futile. He won a Nobel Prize for his work on bounded rationality, too, so it’s not like his work went unrecognized. A brief summary: http://www.economist.com/node/13350892
As this page correctly observes, people’s behavior often fails to adhere to even the most basic principles of logic, which leaves humans looking pretty stupid IF you believe that logic–i.e. ‘rationality’–is the best standard to which we should compare behavior.
But Gerd Gigerenzer and others (including me) argue the opposite! Rather than saying, ‘Gee, people are pretty dumb because they don’t make decisions the way a computer would make a decision,’ we argue instead that people use shortcuts that are typically well-suited for the real world of vast uncertainty and severe time pressure.
Some interesting reading on Gigerenzer’s approach, which he calls “ecological rationality:” https://hbr.org/2014/06/instinct-can-beat-analytical-thinking and https://www.edge.org/conversation/gerd_gigerenzer-smart-heuristics
In the instance of the gas station that you described above, I’d say you were acting in an ecologically rational manner, probably using a heuristic. I’d guess that your deliberation went something like this:
“This old-timey gas station has ridiculously long lines. I hate long lines! Screw it, I’ll go elsewhere and pay a bit more for my gas. The savings of about $1.00 per fill-up isn’t worth my time and aggravation.”
A standard economic model would require that you sit down and calculate whether the savings of $1 or $2 is actually worth your time and aggravation. Which would, of course, require that you assigned a numerical value to your aggravation, knew how much time you’d spend waiting, and how much of that waiting time you’d actually spend on side hustles (vs. something unproductive), how much money you’d make from the time spent on your side hustle, etc…
When it’s spelled out like that, it becomes painfully obvious that nobody behaves like “homo economicus,” because performing such actions is, in itself, terribly inefficient–not to mention far more imprecise than big-time thinkers would like to admit [i.e. how much IS your aggravation worth? And what if you estimate a 15-minute wait, but it’s actually a 25-minute wait, which causes extra frustration? How much extra frustration would that cause, and what negative effects would that stress have on your health? And, more to the point, how much would it cost to address those negative health effects? Because, remember, we need numbers in order to make the equation work…].
So, to the point of your article: if you buy into Gigerenzer’s notions, rational thought often DOESN’T require complexity–as long as you’re holding people to the standard of ecological rationality, rather than logical-mathematical rationality.