Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World

Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World

Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World

Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World

Synopsis

Where do new ideas come from? What is social intelligence? Why do social scientists perform mindless statistical rituals? This vital book is about rethinking rationality as adaptive thinking: to understand how minds cope with their environments, both ecological and social. Gerd Gigerenzer proposes and illustrates a bold new research program that investigates the psychology of rationality, introducing the concepts of ecological, bounded, and social rationality. His path-breaking collection takes research on thinking, social intelligence, creativity, and decision-making out of an ethereal world where the laws of logic and probability reign, and places it into our real world of human behavior and interaction. Adaptive Thinking is accessibly written for general readers with an interest in psychology, cognitive science, economics, sociology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and animal behavior. It also teaches a practical audience, such as physicians, AIDS counselors, and experts in criminal law, how to understand and communicate uncertainties and risks.

Excerpt

Some years ago, I had lunch with a motley group of colleagues at Stanford, mostly psychologists and economists, who were interested in decision making in an uncertain world. We chewed our way through our sandwiches and through the latest embellishments of the prisoner's dilemma, trading stories of this or that paradox or stubborn irrationality. Finally, one economist concluded the discussion with the following dictum: "Look," he said with conviction, "either reasoning is rational or it's psychological."

This supposed opposition between the rational and the psychological has haunted me ever since. For the economists and psychologists seated at the picnic table with me that afternoon, it meant a division of labor. the heavenly laws of logic and probability rule the realm of sound reasoning; psychology is assumed to be irrelevant. Only if mistakes are made are psychologists called in to explain how wrong-wired human minds deviate from these laws. Chernobyl, U.S. foreign policy, and human disasters of many kinds have been associated with failures in logical thinking. Adopting this opposition, many textbooks present first the laws of logic and probability as the standard by which to measure human thinking, then data about how people actually think. the discrepancy between the two makes people appear to be irrational.

Adaptive Thinking offers a different story. I view the mind in relation to its environment rather than in opposition to the laws of logic or probability. in a complex and uncertain world, psychology is indispensable for sound reasoning; it is rationality's fuel rather than its brake. This book is about rethinking rationality as adaptive thinking: to understand how minds cope with specific environments, ecological and social. the chapters in this book elaborate the idea that human thinking--from scientific creativity to simply understanding what a positive hiv test means--"happens" partly outside of the mind. For instance, new laboratory instruments can inspire scientists to create new metaphors and theories, and new ways of representing uncertainties can either cloud or facilitate physicians' understanding of risks. in this sense, insight can come from outside the mind.

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