Earlier this year I read a book called You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney (I discussed it briefly here). The book steps you through various psychological fallacies that all of us fall prey to at one time or another. Things like confirmation bias and anchoring effects and so on. As you read, you are constantly hammered with the message given in the title: you’re an idiot. The research is interesting, but the premise gets a little wearying. I get it! I’m not so smart.
Much of the research presented in the book is the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. So David McRaney must have been a little disappointed to learn that Daniel Kahneman recently published his own book on our psychological shortcomings. The book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, comes from the veritable horse’s mouth. In it, Kahneman describes the arc of his career developing and promoting the school of behavioral economics. Kahneman’s book, as you might imagine, is more thorough but also much more readable and humane. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Kahneman shows great respect for the rapid and intuitive decision-making apparatus that humans rely on. It sometimes causes spectacular problems, but usually it works incredibly well.
If you study genetic diseases for a while, you start to think that genes exist to cause disease. Similarly, if you make a detailed study the failures of intuitive thinking, you can be forgiven for thinking that intuition is disaster-prone mess. But if it were, how could you possibly be so successful and good-looking?
Turns out you’re pretty smart after all. But you already knew that, right?