Friday, March 16, 2018

Reading About Thinking

I just declined an invitation to go out this evening, saying I planned to stay in reading about thinking. I'm really looking forward to it!

The book I'm about to start is Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) by psychologist Daniel Kahneman (fun-to-read NYT review, with some good criticism). Today I heard him on Hidden Brain, the podcast that's like potato chips––I can't listen to just one. 
(Episode "Think Fast with Daniel Kahneman" embedded below.)

Kahneman and his intellectual partner Amos Tversky were the pair of Israeli psychologists who in the 1970s researched and outlined 20 cognitive biases. 

Right: T & K toasting their partnership 

When I first read about c.g.s, I was happy--they explain so much––
and, also a treat, they give names to things you've already noticed or wondered about--
like why you keep going on vacation even when most of the experience is drudgery.

It's the peak/end bias: you remember peak moments and how an event ends most vividly--so, if you have a really fun afternoon deep sea diving, and, all things considered, nothing really bad happened, that stands out in memory waaaay much more than the long flights and delays in airports, and the watery overpriced tropical cocktails.

Personal example:
When I was twenty-five years old and miserable biking around Ireland in the constant drizzle FOR A MONTH, I remember commenting to bink bitterly that I just knew I would remember this trip fondly---once I was home and dry. I said it bitterly because I felt my rosy hindsight of the future would be betraying my present reality---and I was right.
 Even though I know I was miserable 80% of the time, I remember the trip fondly. (But I'm not doing it again!) 

Knowing about cognitive biases offers something like what John Updike called the obscure consolation of original sin: 
once you know it is/they are part of the organism, it's sort of a relief. You can stop beating yourself up (if you were). It's not just you and your personal failings (YPFs): these behaviors/mental glitches are bugs in the original evolutionary software. 
And/or, they're brilliant necessary survival tactics, or maybe their downsides---like, say, envy as a spur to action (I'm going to create my own toys), vs envy as a spur to violence (I'm going to take away your toys), . . . and so on, down the line.

Speaking of envy, I envy Kahneman's luck (he calls it great luck) in finding a working partner incredibly well suited to him---it's the kind of romantic relationship I admire so much (like Kirk & Spock). 
K. talks in the podcast about how they were always laughing. In the book he says,
“The pleasure we found in working together made us exceptionally patient; it is much easier to strive for perfection when you are never bored.”
Vanity Fair article about their work and their relationship, "How Two Trailblazing Psychologists Turned the World of Decision Science Upside Down"
"In the history of Danny and Amos, there are periods when it is difficult to disentangle their enthusiasm for their ideas from their enthusiasm for each other. The moments... appear, in hindsight, less like a natural progression from one idea to the next than two men in love scrambling to find an excuse to be together. "

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