Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

This is a sprawling book that covers the entire research life of a Nobel-Prize-winning psychologist/economist (Daniel Kahneman). I never failed to be impressed by Kahneman's crystal-clear explanations, but his own philosophy that the stories we tell ourselves about the world are just constructs gets in his way: he makes no effort to shape the separate stories into any kind of narrative. As a result, many of the stories do not "stick" (at least for this audiobook listener, maybe it's different with the book). So, in the spirit of the author, I have a bunch of bullet points of random thoughts. There were a LOT more, but Kahneman leaves a lot of the interpretation to you, so, there's no way I could capture them all. It's too bad, because every well-done experient has several implications, but again, Kahneman's own philosophy interferes with them being put together into any kind of story. And it is so long that, despite the fact that it's always moving, there were some dry spells, especially when I had heard of the experiment before. I may recommend that the reader approach this as a book, not an audiobook.

-- Body-mind connection demonstrated through the lemonade/Splenda body language experiment: Thinking uses glucose and you only have a limited budget of energy. So eat more sugar to think better?

-- Iris experiment can determine the difficulty of a talk from physical dilation of the iris. It's true: "The eye is the window of the soul" (Jesus)

-- "The Anchoring Effect" in negotiations is just "Ask and Ye Shall Receive" as well.

-- In his academic career, Kahneman deliberately sought out and worked with those who disagreed with him. This is his most unique and admirable trait as a researcher. I was particularly struck by his investigations of intuition when he combined his skepticism with Gary Klein, who was more trusting of the power of intuition. Together they made the excellent point that intuition is learning to read (just reading LIFE instead of books) and it requires both experience and a regular non-random situation. Kahneman dwells on the randomness, but I'm with the Klein: I see order.

-- Because Kahneman's behavioral economics overthrew the too-rational "utility theory," he has personal experience with how a scientific community can accept a theory for too long without question. I find this particularly disturbing. Kahneman doesn't seem to ask, where are we doing this groupthink now, as scientists? He's already smashed his icons, no need to look for more, I guess.

-- Behavioral economics is in some ways accounting for the sin of pride in the economic agent. Conversely, humility is seeing things fairly. Humility is seeing truthfully, objectively. The person acting with humility would be the rational actor!

-- The real value of something good is not a constant straight line, but it is curved -- like thermodynamic functions looked at in detail. Value depends on history, and is relative to the previous state -- like thermodynamic functions in physical chemistry (delta G, delta H ... ). More in the context of plenty gives diminishing returns of good -- like entropy (see Atkins' third example of entropy in Physical Chemistry for the Life Sciences). Are there more connections between physical chemistry and behavioral economics? This is as far as I can get while listening in my car, so we may never know ...

-- After finding out so many interesting things, Kahneman's conclusions are again, somewhat flat and predictable/political. His refusal to tell a story once again gets in the way. Oh well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like thermoeconomics!