Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Everything should be made as simple as possible,

but not more so"

~Albert Einstein

In order to make sense of Gerd Gigerenzer's Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious you kind of have to stop making sense (to borrow from the Talking Heads) or at least let go of the idea that everything has to make sense. It is a very interesting book, and if you just let yourself go with it, highly readable.

Gigerenzer's basic principle is that many of our decisions are based on unconscious and instinctual heuristic processes and that these processes are often more efficient than statistical and/or logical decision making processes (until you try combining the two). He makes an interesting observation in the first chapter, that i have found true in my own life~if you take the time to apply Ben Franklin's "Reasons of Motive" (basically making a list of pros and cons~if I ever take the time to do so) at the end of the ordeal you often find you've already made you're decision, even if it goes against reason (though you sometimes needed to go through the exercise to find that out.) He also talked about the gut instincts of baseball players who estimate where a fly ball will land while running rather than making a mathematical calculation and then waiting for it at its destination (what he calls the "gaze heuristic"~and which seems a tad obvious for me, but is illustrative for many of the other points he makes.)

He offers evidence for less knowledge often being more help than hindrance for predicting things like stock markets and sports winners as well as behaviours of opponents. Gigerenzer is the director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany but he makes this text highly accessible for the layperson (even concepts that may at first seem daunting deserve perseverance, for it takes just a paragraph or two). His extrapolation into the health care field and moral behavior is especially enlightening.

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