thinking fast and slow

I began reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman and realized I was never going to make it. Too bad because it was recommended in “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande and terrific in helping the reading figure out how to make difficult decisions, which as I get older, I’m having to make with greater frequency — questions where there really isn’t one absolute right answer or even any great options, but that I have to answer anyway.

Then a colleague sent me this podcast interviewing the the author, which was a helpful cliff notes version.

I read the transcript and had to review some of the author’s answers a few times. These are the moments where god, I hit the limitations of my brain, the ceiling of my intellect, and I realize I can really only understand so much, but the parts I did absorb were damn fascinating.

His work has led him to believe that beliefs are not based on reasons or logic, even if people can defend or point to “logical” explanations, that people’s beliefs are formed from their personal history, people who they were impressed with growing up. So in light of this past presidential election and the toxic cesspool of contemporary politics, there is no way you can convince someone of your point of view if they don’t already have it. Nobody is logical apparently. There is no such quality as rationality when it comes to the human brain. What any of us believe are constructs.

Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway here are two riveting details from the interview:

Story number 1:

“Well, I mean the main story I’ve been telling, which was in Paris, actually, in Neuilly, which is close to Paris, and that was 1941. I was seven. The Jews were wearing the yellow star, and a curfew had been declared for 6:00. I think, for Jews. And I’d gone to play with a friend, and I was late. So I turned my sweater inside out, and I walked home. And very close to home – actually, I went back to that place last year, out of curiosity, to match it against my memories. I saw, on that street, a German facing me, coming towards me, and the street was otherwise deserted. And that German was wearing a black uniform, and that was the uniform of the SS, and I knew enough to know that they were the worst of the worst. And then he beckoned me and picked me up, and I remember being quite afraid that he would see inside my sweater that I was wearing a yellow star. And then he hugged me very tight, and he put me down and took out his wallet, showed me a picture of a little boy, and gave me some money. And we went out separate ways. That was an impressive story, for me.”

Story number 2:

“But the way that I would see this is that the reasons may have very little to do with the real causes of your beliefs. So the real cause of your belief in a political position, whether conservative of radical left, the real causes are rooted in your personal history. They’re rooted in who are the people that you trusted and what they seemed to believe in, and it has very little to do with the reasons that come to your mind, why your position is correct and the position of the other side is nonsensical. And we take the reasons that people give for their actions and beliefs, and our own reasons for our actions and beliefs, much too seriously.

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