Monday, April 13, 2009
"What Intelligence Tests Miss; The Psychology of Rational Thought" by Keith E. Stanovich
Mr. Stanovich is professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto. That IQ and SAT exams only indicate a general capacity for rational thought-processing without demonstrating in the least whether those processes are actually being used by the subject is "the hook" upon which the professor hangs a wide-ranging discussion of various cognitive mal-functions.
To put his thesis into the inconsistent mess of 'folk language' (everyday usage) one could simply say : supposedly 'smart' people often do very 'dumb' things.
The author's schemata for rational cognition looks like something akin to the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages. Perhaps Predictably Irrational; The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely gets closer to the earth people actually walk on. Neither are there very many interesting stories in this book with the exception of his examination of the behavior of Wall Street investors which looks cribbed directly from Nassim Taleb's Black Swan. One could boil the whole matter down to an even more concentrated form:
' At seventy I realized that instead of being a lunatic, I was a moron. I read too little and read very slowly, I knew too little about so many things. I picked out this and that which interested me and jumbled them into a bag but that's not the way to make a work of art. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I've always been wrong, eighty-seven percent wrong! Do what you can to save the innocent...stop this Pound influence from spreading to the young!' *
- Ezra Pound-
Sustained rational thinking takes a lot of attention (requires concentration), is slow and interferes with other more pleasant thoughts and actions. But before coming to a conclusion about any important ( and even some seemingly unimportant questions) it is wise to collect a lot of information, seek several different points of view, think of future consequences, weigh the plus and minuses as explicitly as possible, seek the nuances and avoid absolutism. Remember that ambiguous evidence should lead to tentative beliefs; eschew overconfidence, don't waste effort trying to explain chance events and focus more on what you have to gain then what you might lose.
* see comment