I’ve been working with a good friend of mine who’s a neuropsychopharmacologist on a paper about some of the weird, inherent contradictions of the burgeoning field of neuroeconomics, which deals with the psychology of decision making. It’s a topic anthropologists have been interested in for a few years at least, but we’re taking a different angle: metaphorical versus technoscientific understandings of the brain.
Economic theory is by and large based on the idea of a rational actor, and economists’ mathematical models reflect the assumption that economic actors (i.e. humans) are rational, calculating, utility-optimizing agents. In other words, given a set of constraints in the world, we will always make decisions that make us happiest, in whatever time frame and social ramifications we’re able to consider (i.e. bounded rationality).