Friday, August 04, 2017


I saw the latest Michael Lewis bestseller, The Undoing Project, in my library, so I checked it out.  Lewis has got a huge audience because he can take modern issues of interest and put them in digestible story form. (Such writers often make things too simple, but that's popularization for you.)

The book is about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists whose insights into biases in human decision-making revolutionized thinking on how we reason.  Their work was still new and radical when I was in college (they actually gave a big lecture at Michigan when I was an undergraduate there), but have so suffused our culture that it seems almost everyone is aware of their ideas now, and generally accept them.

But that's not what this post is about.

I just wanted to write about the odd phenomenon of reading a book and then knowing one of the characters in it.  I've never met Kahneman or Tversky, but the book also tells stories of those who have been affected by them.

One of them is my old law school professor and friend, Cass Sunstein.  He appears in the book because reading their material changed his thinking, and greatly influenced his book Nudge (written with economist Richard Thaler, who's also in Lewis's book).

Kahneman and Tversky also influenced national policy when Sunstein served at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the Obama White House.

But whereas reading about other people who knew, or knew of, these psychologists, it feels like a story.  You know it's based on reality, but it feels not that different from fiction.  But then someone you personally know drops in and somehow it becomes more real.

I guess this wouldn't surprise the two, since they demonstrated in their research how you frame the facts greatly influences how you think about something.

PS  Another person I know at Chicago, Gerhard Casper, also pops up for a sentence.


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