Cog­ni­tively el­e­vated to the power of two

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The Big choices, we need to give care­ful thought to how the choices are pre­sented to them, lest they make pre­dictably ir­ra­tional choices.

Kah­ne­man was awarded the 2002 No­bel prize in eco­nom­ics for decades of work on prospect the­ory, hu­man bi­ases and cog­ni­tive il­lu­sions. His 2011 book Think­ing, Fast and Slow, helped to pop­u­larise many of his (and Tver­sky’s) most sem­i­nal in­sights. Like Lewis’s work, it is both highly read­able and very lu­cid — the two by no means al­ways go to­gether. It’s key maxim is that the hu­man brain is ‘‘a ma­chine for jump­ing to con­clu­sions’’ — the ‘‘fast’’ mode — and that it of­ten jumps to strangely er­ro­neous con­clu­sions be­cause of cer­tain hard­wired bi­ases that must be very con­sciously and de­lib­er­ately cor­rected for if we want to avoid such er­rors — the “slow” think­ing part.

Tver­sky was widely re­garded as the more bril­liant of the two. It used to be said there was some­thing called the Tver­sky In­tel­li­gence Test: ‘‘The faster you re­alised that Tver­sky was smarter than you, the smarter you were.’’ But he and Kah­ne­man de­vel­oped their ideas like two mas­ter du­elling banjo play­ers, bouncing in­sights and hy­pothe­ses off one an­other and spend­ing so much time in one an­other’s com­pany that it was al­most as if they were lovers. It was a clas­sic in­tel­lec­tual friend­ship.

Both were Is­raeli and their casts of mind and in­tel­lec­tual pre­oc­cu­pa­tions were won­der­fully rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a Jewish in­tel­lec­tual cul­ture that has gen­er­ated so many first-class minds in the mod­ern era. Nei­ther was re­li­gious.

Tver­sky was born in Haifa, in the Bri­tish Man­date of Pales­tine, in 1937, but grew to adult­hood in the be­sieged state of Is­rael. He re­ceived his un­der­grad­u­ate education at the He­brew

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