The fallibility of the mind

In his book Thinking Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman suggests that our minds are fundamentally lazy. Thinking requires attention and effort and these capacities are easily depleted. We prefer the comfort of the familiar and coherent to the discomfort of unfamiliarity and uncertainty. What matters is the narrative, and the best narratives are simple and coherent. As a consequence, we tend, without being aware of it, to substitute easier questions that we can answer for harder questions that we can’t. This unconscious substitution is the basis of the heuristics and biases model that Kahneman developed with Amos Tversky. In their…

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A manifesto for heuristics

In developing my ideas over the last few years, I have been guided by two basic intuitions. The first is that conceptual structures in all domains are, ultimately, heuristic models. The second is that the target for the application of these models is an abstraction from, rather than the totality of, reality. The two ideas are connected. Abstraction is a process of ignoring some aspects of a totality and heuristic models are typically simplifications that deliberately ignore many features of the target domain. The idea about abstraction has been with me for a long time. I think the original inspiration…

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