Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We Is Smart

I noticed an article by Jonah Lehrer in New Yorker magazine (On-Line), mentioning, Daniel Kahneman, whose book Thinking Fast and Slow I quoted in one of my first blogs. The article is called “Why Smart People are Stupid.” 

I couldn’t resist. 
 Lehrer begins with one of those essay-type S.A.T. questions:
Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents... Kahneman ... [has] demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.
When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort.

Ahhh.. .the “least mental effort.” Now THAT is something I can relate to.

But more seriously, I have always wondered why we (meaning mostly ‘me’) can make so many decisions that in hindsight seem absurdly illogical.  Or why some decisions are best made by an individual and others by a group or committee of people.  I’ve seen lots of committee decisions in my time, since Presbyterians work almost exclusively through the process of what we call ‘ordered groups’ (as we remind everyone to “trust the process”).  But even with our best minds and our most fervent prayers, we often have to SLOW DOWN and let the rational catch up with the spiritual!

Thinking Fast and Slow,is the name of Kahneman’s book. I’ll keep reading it. I’m a slow reader – really! But I will let you know what ITHINK as fast as I can.
Oh... and keep praying, too! Though the Nobel Economist doesn't mention it, I still recommend it--fast or slow. 

Additional quote of the day:  “It is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” – Daniel Kahneman.

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