Skip to main content

Gut Feelings - Gerd Gigerenzer *****

Although this book dates back to 2007 (it was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2008), the information within doesn’t seem dated. Psychologist and behavioural expert Gerd Gigerenzer has written a number of books about risk and probability in recent years, and while this book has some of that, this book is focused on the secrets of fast and effective decision making. That is not to say that it is a self-help book, but rather a description, based on neurological and psychological research, of how the brain uses heuristics in order to make decisions with limited information, though readers will find much of the information useful when thinking about decisions.
Gigerenzer explains how intuition works in easy to understand terminology and also uses numerous examples throughout the book to illustrate how intuition is the basis for decision making, such as how we are able to catch a ball without conducting calculations of its speed or distance. 
In short, Gigerenzer describes the processes of 'system 1' to use the terminology from Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. Interestingly, Gigerenzer takes issue with the ‘Linda is a bank teller’ puzzle that Kahneman and Tversky used to illustrate the ‘conjunction fallacy’. Gigerenzer argues, very effectively and persuasively, that such logical puzzles are ‘content blind' as they ignore the content and goals of thinking, and that our intelligence has developed to operate in an uncertain world and not the artificial certainty of a logical system. In any event, it is the first persuasive and rigorous counter argument to many of the premises of Thinking Fast and Slow that I have come across.
In another chapter, Gigerenzer discusses the ‘string heuristic’ ideas as related to how people choose which party or politician to vote for. Basically, voters arrange the complexity of the political landscape to one dimension: left-Right. They then arrange the parties like pearls on a string and, by picking the up the string at one’s ideal point, the voters arrange their preferences for other parties. I found this idea quite fascinating and an excellent explanation of when polls show how voters move between parties that are not close to each other ideologically; the parties may be close on the given issue that the voter has based his decision on.
Gigerenzer has written an excellent book and has a real talent for using examples and terminology that make these interesting ideas accessible for the everyday reader. If you’re interested in risk, probability, logic and how our brains weigh such things, and how we are more astute than we think we are, then this is a top quality read.


Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Ian Bald

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Bits to Bitcoin - Mark Stuart Day ***

When I saw the title of this book, I got all excited - at last we were going to get an explanation of bitcoin for the rest of us, who struggle to understand what the heck it really involves. There certainly is an explanation of bitcoin, but it comes in chapter 26 - in practice, the book contains far more. Almost every popular computer science title I've read has effectively been history of computer science - this is one of the first examples I've ever come across that is actually trying to make the 'science' part of computer science accessible to the general reader.

I don't mean by this that it's an equivalent of Programming for Dummies. Instead, Bits to Bitcoin takes the reader through the concepts lying behind programming. If we think of programming as engineering, this is the physics that the engineering depends on. This is a really interesting proposition. Many years ago, I was a professional programmer, but I never studied computer science, so I was only fa…

How to Speak Science - Bruce Benamran ***

I can't remember a book where my mental picture of what the star rating would be has varied so much. At first glance, it looked like a solid 4 star title. It looks fun (despite the odd title - it sounds like it's a book on public speaking for geeks) and a flick through showed that it covers a huge amount of science topics, mostly physics - so it was promising as a beginner's overview. There is one small issue to be got out of the way on the coverage side. There's a whole lot of physics, with a gaping hole that is quantum theory. More on that later.

After reading a few pages, I had to downgrade that score to 3 stars because of the writing style. It oozes smugness. All became clear when I read the words 'For those of you who aren't familiar with my YouTube channel.' How to Speak Science reads like a transcript of a YouTube rant. The reason I love reading books and can hardly ever be bothered to watch videos is to get away from this kind of thing. However, I ac…

By the Pricking of Her Thumb (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

Sometimes a sequel betters the original - think Terminator 2 - and Adam Roberts has done this with his follow-up to The Real-Town Murders. (It's sensible to read the first book before this: while it's not essential, there are plenty of references you will miss otherwise.)

Ostensibly this is a murder mystery, or, as Roberts tells us, a combination of a howdunnit and a whodunnit-to, as the central character Alma is called on to work out how someone found with a needle stuck through her thumb was killed and which of a group of four super-rich individuals is dead when all claim to still be alive - though one of the group who hires Alma is convinced that the death has occurred. 

However, this is anything but a conventional murder mystery - far more so than the strange crimes suggest. Alma and her partner Marguerite (the latter still trapped by an engineered polyvalent illness that requires treatment every 4 hours and 4 minutes) don't do a lot of detecting. In fact Marguerite hard…