Assuming Much, Reacting Too Much

Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for economics. He is an academic psychologist and researcher. I could make a comment about the state of economists, but I’ll let it pass. I am reading Kahneman’s latest book, Thinking Fast and Slow. This thought struck me (kind of goes along with my post about assumptions this week). The great comedian Danny Kaye had a line that has stayed with me since my adolescence. Speaking of a woman he dislikes, he says, “Her favorite position is beside herself, and her favorite sport is jumping to conclusions.”

Economists thought for a long time that humans made economic decisions rationally. They called it “the economic man.” Kahneman’s research showed that in fact humans make decisions emotionally and justify through rationality later.

To me, that was a “duh” moment. Want to buy that new house? Want that new bass boat? How about a new car? Emotionally, you want that new thing. Then your thinking mind figures out why you need it. That is the “thinking fast and slow” in the book.

Preachers have known this for thousands of years. They hit you emotionally then give you a few reasons for faith. Or maybe they start with what sounds rational and then work your emotions to get you to agree with them.

The point of Kaye’s description that struck me was the “favorite sport is jumping to conclusions.” Kahneman says that if we are in familiar territory deciding on things we’ve seen before, the “thinking fast” part serves us well. It takes too much effort to think. But if we are faced with something we haven’t seen before or where we have little experience, thinking fast (jumping to conclusions) is almost always wrong. We should have done the work of thinking things through thoroughly.

And when we hear something about a neighbor or meet someone for the first time jumping to a conclusion often leads us astray. I look at someone, and their appearance puts me off. Then we talk, and I discover she’s a really nice and intelligent person.

Sometimes we jump too soon and we wind up off the cliff like Wile E. Coyote.

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