Thursday, January 26, 2012

Another book recommendation

If you've read very much of Robert Anton Wilson's writings, you are familiar with his frequent warnings about getting too comfortable with our own opinions and your own assumptions of certainty that  you know what's going on It's a major plot theme of ILLUMINATUS! It's what he's talking about when he refers to reality tunnels, or recommends reading political  magazines that express opinions you disagree with. (For example, in the New Libertarian Notes interview, RAW says, "I also read at least one periodical every month by a political group I dislike -- to keep some sense of balance. The overwhelming stupidity of political movements is caused by the fact that political types never read anything but their own gang's agit-prop.") RAW often talked about how he wanted to persuade people to adopt an agnostic attitude, not only about God but about other dogmas. I could give other examples, but if you're familiar with him, you know what I'm talking about.

I mention all this because I am reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The book is all about how all of us are much more certain about our opinions than we have any right to be. Mr. Kahneman argues that we often substitute half-baked intuitive judgments for carefully-considered ones. Here is one review of the book, which begins, "There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow." 

Another sentence from the review: "My main problem in doing this review was preventing family members and friends from stealing my copy of the book to read it for themselves."

I strongly recommend the book, too. Kahneman is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, although in fact he is a psychologist.

Tyler Cowen, one of my favorite bloggers and authors, put Thinking, Fast and Slow on his list of the best economics books of 2011. 

1 comment:

michael said...

I mentioned this astoundingly learned and interesting book in my blog not long ago. I've followed Kahneman and Tversky for awhile. The stuff that really pulled me in was the veritable taxonomy of human biases, which seem "normal." These biases have names, are well-described and fairly well-understood, especially by their effects. How seductive the Confirmation Bias seems to me!

On a whole other level, Nassim Taleb has been a fan of Kahneman for a long time, too, and these psychological ideas - which, if understood, ought, I think, to completely change one's thinking about economics if you were some sort of Rational Choice person - feed his ideas about Black Swans.