Thinking Fast and Slow

Glen Newey writes:

Many endeavours go wrong not through lack of thought, but through our having the wrong thoughts. Human cogitative failure is a many-splendoured beast, which Daniel Kahneman has devoted his life to studying. Some goofs prove popular enough to put paid to any very sanguine view of evolutionary cognitive ascent. Humans are dab hands at some tasks, such as acquiring language and matching patterns. But we suck at others, including many that involve statistical inference. In the UK currently, the statistical likelihood of suffering serious injury from al-Qaida is many times lower than that of suffering a similar fate at the hands of one’s fridge. But few enter the kitchen cowed by the looming menace posed by their Smeg. This effect, which Kahneman likens to perceptual illusions such as the Müller-Lyer, can’t be sloughed off simply by realising that it is illusory – though some people, including some in government, don’t even get that far.

(LRB 22 March 2012)

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