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Irrationality 1,2: Introduction, Wrong Impression


Chapter 1: Introduction

Covers the basics of the book and defines rationality.

Kindle Notes:

My purpose is to demonstrate that people are very much less rational than is commonly thought and to set out systematically the many reasons why this is so. Nobody, including I need hardly say myself, is exempt (132).

Rational thinking leads to the conclusion that is most likely to be correct, given the knowledge one has (139).

a rational action is the one that, given the person’s knowledge, is most likely to achieve his end (140).

Taking the most rational decision, then, does not necessarily ensure the best outcome, because in human affairs there is almost always an element of chance. But over a lifetime chance tends to even out, and if you want to achieve your ends to the greatest possible extent, you had better take the rational decision as often as you can even though on occasion a different decision would have led to a better result (163).

Chapter 2: The Wrong Impression

This chapter describes what Sutherland thinks is the most prevalent reason for errors in thinking, which factors into the rest of the book. It’s basically the availability heuristic or error, judge things as more likely to occur or be true by how easily we can come up with examples in our minds. I’m really enjoying the “moral” at the back of each chapter. Really, that’s the majority of what people needs. Everything else is just dressing. I think he may be lumping more things together than need to be here though. Is anti-bad-handwriting and anti-female bias really a result of the availability error?

Some applications that come to mind: relationship battles- one person remembers all bad things other person did, and vice versa, so each has the impression that the other is worse at doing chores or somesuch. Religious people can think of many good religious people, atheists can think of all those horrible stories of priest molesters. People who are far right or left hear all these terrible things about the other side, and can remember them easily. 

Kindle Notes:

Judging by the first thing that comes to mind is called the ‘availability error’. I have made it the first error to be described because it permeates all reasoning and, as we shall see throughout the rest of the book, many other specific errors are in reality just further instances of it (303).

In one study, the same examination scripts were rewritten twice, once in good handwriting and once in bad handwriting. They were then given to two sets of examiners: each saw all the scripts with half written badly and half well. They were all told to disregard the handwriting and to mark purely on the content. On average the scripts in good handwriting received considerably higher marks than those in poor writing. A similar experiment had an even more horrifying result. When the same essay was shown to examiners bearing a surname and either a male or female Christian name, it received higher marks when the examiner thought it was written by a man (492).

in deciding whether an article should be published, referees and editors pay more attention to the authors’ names and to the standing of the institution to which they belong than they do to the scientific work reported (524).

1. Never base a judgement or decision on a single case, no matter how striking.
2. In forming an impression of a person (or object) try to break your judgement down into his (or its) separate qualities without letting any strikingly good or bad qualities influence your opinion about the remainder. This may seem cold, but it is important in situations, such as interviews or medical diagnoses based on a range of symptoms, where the judgement may seriously affect the person being judged.
3. When exposed to connected material, suspend judgement until the end: try to give as much weight to the last item as the first.
4. Try to avoid obtaining information that would bias you: for example, in judging whether an article or a book should be published, remain ignorant of the author’s name until you have formed your own opinion of the work.
5. If you happen to be a publisher, check your back list on receipt of an MS: you don’t want to publish the same book twice (552).

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