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Kahneman I

Books and plays throw punches. They hit in the moment, and often that's about it. Some, however, throw counter punches days, even months later. The book that's hounded me most this year is Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. It's about how the mind does, and does not, work, and how we make decisions. Though he won a Nobel Prize in economics (2002), some call Kahneman the world's foremost psychologist, even the Sigmund Freud of our time.

I dipped back into the book for something he said about Freud. Couldn't find it amid page after page of marginal notes and question marks and "we what?"s. In his spry, youthful voice, he said Freud was okay; he gave us the unconscious, after all. But the Oedipus Complex? Forget about it. No such thing.

Who knows how many guilt-wracked males roll over in how many graves - or therapist's couches - at THAT revelation!

Like the critics I've read who reviewed it, I'm not qualified to critique Kahneman's myraid observations or the disturbingly-named school of "Libertarian Paternalism" he and others espouse.

That said, his individual remarks about how we think, and about human nature, punch my reticent assumptions toward a paradigm shift.

For example:

"Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it."

"Laziness is built deep into our nature."

"Mental life...is normally conducted at the pace of a comfortable walk."

"People can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers."

"In about 70% of the races for senator, congressman, and governor, the election winner was the candidate whose face had earned a higher rating of competence.[Rather than gauge how a candidate will perform in office] voters fall back on a simpler assessment."

"It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true."

Kahneman follows his own advice. He writes with a kind of tentative certainty. At the same time he seems surprised with others disagree with his views. And when he comes to Wall Street, he really cuts loose:

"The puzzle is why buyers and sellers alike think that the current price is wrong."

"On average, the shares that individual traders sold did better than those they bought, by a substantial margin."

"Subjective confidence of traders is a feeling, not a judgement."

"The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration: it is deeply ingrained in the culture of [the stock market]. Facts that challenge basic assumptions - and thereby threaten people's livelihood and self-esteem - are simply ignored. The mind does not digest them."

"Several studies have shown that human decision makers are inferior to a prediction formula even when they are given the score suggested by the formula!"

More tomorrow.

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Books and plays throw punches. They hit in the moment, and often that's about it. Some, however, throw counter punches days, even months later. The book that's hounded me most this year is Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. It's about how the mind does, and does not, work, and how we make decisions. Though he won a Nobel Prize in economics (2002), some call Kahneman the world's foremost psychologist, even the Sigmund Freud of our time.

I dipped back into the book for something he said about Freud. Couldn't find it amid page after page of marginal notes and question marks and "we what?"s. In his spry, youthful voice, he said Freud was okay; he gave us the unconscious, after all. But the Oedipus Complex? Forget about it. No such thing.

Who knows how many guilt-wracked males roll over in how many graves - or therapist's couches - at THAT revelation!

Like the critics I've read who reviewed it, I'm not qualified to critique Kahneman's myraid observations or the disturbingly-named school of "Libertarian Paternalism" he and others espouse.

That said, his individual remarks about how we think, and about human nature, punch my reticent assumptions toward a paradigm shift.

For example:

"Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it."

"Laziness is built deep into our nature."

"Mental life...is normally conducted at the pace of a comfortable walk."

"People can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers."

"In about 70% of the races for senator, congressman, and governor, the election winner was the candidate whose face had earned a higher rating of competence.[Rather than gauge how a candidate will perform in office] voters fall back on a simpler assessment."

"It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true."

Kahneman follows his own advice. He writes with a kind of tentative certainty. At the same time he seems surprised with others disagree with his views. And when he comes to Wall Street, he really cuts loose:

"The puzzle is why buyers and sellers alike think that the current price is wrong."

"On average, the shares that individual traders sold did better than those they bought, by a substantial margin."

"Subjective confidence of traders is a feeling, not a judgement."

"The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration: it is deeply ingrained in the culture of [the stock market]. Facts that challenge basic assumptions - and thereby threaten people's livelihood and self-esteem - are simply ignored. The mind does not digest them."

"Several studies have shown that human decision makers are inferior to a prediction formula even when they are given the score suggested by the formula!"

More tomorrow.

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