With the rise in behavioral sciences, we may be entering another Renaissance period…
Before explaining why I think there will be another Renaissance (would it be called Re-renaissance?), here are some overviews of this period in history :
The Renaissance was both a period in history and an artistic movement. It developed gradually in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries and then spread across Europe. (…) A humanist trend began to develop. While God was at the heart of medieval thought, the Renaissance made man the centre of its concerns. People asked questions about the world around them.
…the period from the 14th to the 16th century, implying a rediscovery of rational civilization (exemplified by Greece and Rome) after the medieval centuries – seen as superstitious and artistically primitive.
In short, what characterizes Renaissance is its focus on human and real world, rather than religious interpretations of the world (remember, during the Middle Ages, the Church’s power was absolute, and people lived and thought in the way the Church taught them to…). Renaissance was a crucial historical period, because it was when people started to understand the world as it is (actually the pioneer was ancient Greek and Rome, but people had long abandoned it because of the Church’s influence), not by mythical explanations.
So why do I think that we may be entering another Renaissance period?
It’s because the recent rise and popularity in the filed of behavioral science – behavioral economics, behavioral analytics, consumer behavior, organizational behavior… – to name a few.
After Renaissance, there was Enlightenment, and we entered the era of admiration for science, which still continues up until now. Science has become our definition of “truth”, (we regard everything explained in scientific theories as true, don’t we?), and we have strong faith in numbers (that is why all these statistical data are convincing).
A while ago I made a blog on how “truth” is actually really a fragile idea, because after all, it is all about what we consider to be “truth”. Just as we think that 1+1=2 is true today, people believed that the earth was flat in the old days… there were plenty of examples of which people’s general beliefs of “true fact” turned out to be false. (If you’re interested in this topic, read more : Is Being Rational Really Rational?)
Economics as well, has become dominant discipline in order to make our world better, because scientific theories and numbers are so persuasive, solid, and seems “true”.
However, economists gradually noticed that humans do not always act in a rational way, and that the core assumption in economics – humans are rational beings – might need to be reconsidered. What was proved to be “truth” scientifically and mathematically, which was established as theory, sometimes did not lead to the same “truth” in real world. This has brought about the emergence of behavioral economics : human beings are not like machines which make rational decision all the time, but they are emotional, irrational, and just humans, after all.
This major shift in thinking among economists, which in some way challenged our modern beliefs in the superiority of science and science as the absolute truth (behavioral economics do not deny scientific methods though, it’s just that they added new perspective – psychology – into the already-established economics theory), is the reason why I say that we might be witnessing a new Renaissance : challenging the widely-acknowledged beliefs and try to understand the real world, what is actually happening.
This time, it is the realization that science might not provide all the answers in the world. Some small adjustments need to be done in order to perfect the scientific theory ; human psychology.
This trend is similar to Renaissance in that they both intend to understand the world by looking more closely into human beings in themselves, how we really are.
The trend is not only limited to economics, as I have listed already, there are a lot of research fields which are now integrating the idea of behavioral science, which shows the inclination to “deeper insight into human beings in the way they are” as a whole human history. Maybe in 500 years, people look back at 21st century and conclude it as “the era where people challenged scientific theory from human psychological point of view, gained better understanding on human beings : new form of Renaissance“, who knows?
Today, we are all talking about technology, the Internet, robots or AI, which is purely a scientific domain. Isn’t it quite interesting that the growing popularity in behavioral science – it doesn’t matter whether you call it Re-renaissance or not – is happening at the same time?
Our strong curiosity and desire to know who we really are is never-changing, no matter where our general beliefs are rooted (the Church, science etc.), and I really hope that AI will not become so intelligent that it finds the answer… because it is what makes humanity keeps on moving.
By the way in the course of writing this blog, I read an article about the rise of behavioral economics from business perspective, if you want to read more : http://bworldonline.com/rise-behavioral-science/