All entries for Saturday 08 January 2005

January 08, 2005

Heuristics – Crazy thinking

I talked earlier about the release of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink. Here is another quote from his site regarding its content.

It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives—with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counselled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on—and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

I’ve no real idea of the book’s content but the above passage suggests there will be some discussion of biases inherent in human thought processes. Much interesting work on this has been done by psychologists, philosophers and economists. Mental biases come under the umbrella of heuristics.

From wikipedia:

In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules of thumb which have been proposed to explain how people make decisions, come to judgments and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. These rules work well under most circumstances, but in certain cases lead to systematic cognitive biases.

Prominent players in the field have been Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman won the pseudo Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in “[integrating] insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty”. Such insights have been used to develop the field of behavioural finance, which takes into account the effect of such biases on economic and financial systems. Members of this field would accuse traditional economic models of assuming excessive rationality, rendering them less effective in the forecasting of human behaviour.

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