Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.
A waggish, cautionary compilation of pitfalls associated with systematic cognitive errors, from novelist Dobelli.
To be human is to err, routinely and with bias. We exercise deviation from logic, writes the author, as much as, and possibly more than, we display optimal reasoning. In an effort to bring awareness to this sorry state of affairs, he has gathered here—in three-page, anecdotally saturated squibs—nearly 100 examples of muddied thinking. Many will ring familiar to readers (Dobelli’s illustrations are not startlingly original, but observant)—e.g., herd instinct and groupthink, hindsight, overconfidence, the lack of an intuitive grasp of probability or statistical reality. Others, if not new, are smartly encapsulated: social loafing, the hourly rate trap, decision fatigue, carrying on with a lost cause (the sunk-cost fallacy). Most of his points stick home: the deformation of professional thinking, of which Mark Twain said, “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails”; multitasking is the illusion of attention with potentially dire results if you are eating a sloppy sandwich while driving on a busy street. In his quest for clarity, Dobelli mostly brings shrewdness, skepticism and wariness to bear, but he can also be opaque—e.g., shaping the details of history “into a consistent story...we speak about ‘understanding,’ but these things cannot be understood in the traditional sense. We simply build the meaning into them afterward.” Well, yes. And if we are to be wary of stories, what are we to make of his many telling anecdotes when he counsels, “Anecdotes are a particularly tricky sort of cherry picking....To rebuff an anecdote is difficult because it is a mini-story, and we know how vulnerable our brains are to those”?Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.
Pub Date: May 14, 2013
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: March 5, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013
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by Daniel Kahneman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 2011
Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...
A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.
The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011
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by Robert Greene ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 13, 2012
Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...
Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.
The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.
Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012
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