Monday, December 15, 2008

Today I'm off to spend a few days with a friend, so while I finish preparing for that, here's a book I've been reading that I enjoyed greatly...

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer

From Booklist: Trust your hunches, for intuition does have an underlying rationale, according to this accessible account from a German scientist of human cognition. Permeated with everyday scenarios, such as picking stocks, schools, or spouses, the book adopts an evolutionary perspective of how people act on the basis of incomplete information (usually successfully). He sets the table with an example of a baseball player pursuing a fly ball, who relies not on conscious calculation but on an evolved "gaze heuristic" to make the catch. Definitions of such rules of thumb dot the text, which Gigerenzer embeds amid his presentations of studies that indicate, for example, that financial analysts don't predict markets any better than partially informed amateurs. Explaining this as an outcome of a "recognition heuristic," Gigerenzer argues that knowing a little rather than everything about something is sufficient to take action on it. He forges on into medicine, law, and moral behavior, succeeding in the process in converting a specialized topic into a conduit for greater self-awareness among his readers.

Anyone who reads me knows I love books about how we make decisions, especially ways that aren't strictly rational. Sociology geek that I am, I'm a total sucker for any book that uses the word "heuristic" a lot. Talk academic to me, baby!

So yes, this is a more scholarly book than Malcolm Gladwell's stuff, although Gladwell says he was influenced by Dr. Gigerenzer's work. So while it doesn't click along at Gladwell's pace, it's still absorbing, if you enjoy learning why we do the things we do, and how we know how to do them.

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