Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Irrationality

I had this book on my wish list for awhile, but I finally got it and then finally read it.

It is very much like Thinking, fast and slow, in that it details the various ways that our brain works against us when it comes to being rational. I think Thinking, fast and slow does a much better job at explaining why we’re irrational than this book, and is far less sneery. However, it was a nice refresh of those ideas. Also, most comfortingly, the author states over and over again that results have been replicated many times (as all I think about these days I the replication crisis).

I know I’m probably blind to my biases and I imagine people could easily point them out to me, so in that vein it’s very easy to see people around you fall foul of some irrational thinking. I think the one I see the most ignoring or distorting evidence. This happens all the time and I think people within their own political or social views find it very difficult to take a step back and evaluate the evidence. Most people aren’t setting out to be rational when they read something that conforms to their worldview. But it does manifest in terrible memes and misinformation that they can readily see in opposing views. I’m sure I do it too, but the last couple years I’ve made a more concerted effort to be more skeptical of things I feel are directly aimed to circumvent my rational faculty and appeal directly to my biases.

It is amazing how terrible we are as humans at statistically interpreting the world. It does make me want to learn more stats and probability – though I was terrible at calculating probability in my one university course. Though, I was really good at propositional calculus, so maybe I’m not a complete lost cause. Regardless, I think I’ll maintain my high level of skepticism and hope that helps me a little bit. I think the other thing that I want to do more is take a step back an evaluate the options. I’m not sure I do that, I do intuit a lot, and as the book points out most of us are really bad at making decisions on intuitions. Maybe that will be my New Years resolution, take more time to think through things logically and rationally.

Anyway, I think reading Irrationality or Thinking, fast and slow are books that everyone should read. I don’t think being more skeptical is a bad thing, especially if it stops from too much group think. I think that was the other thing that scares me: groups don’t tend settle somewhere in the middle when it comes to opinion but rather always move to be more radical (and ultimately towards motivated reasoning). I think I see this everywhere and it can be very frustrating. Very quickly, that particular group’s reasoning doesn’t seem logical or even remotely rational.

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