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"No, no, you're not thinking. You're just being logical." ~Niels Bohr

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. ~Blaise Pascal


It turns out that we get our happily-ever-afters in diverse and irrational ways. (I find this comforting.) Throughout our lives, we are faced with myriad choices, involving both welcome and unwanted decision-making. The trick to good decisions may not be to amass information—but to discard it.
     Our gut instincts are more often right than we realize. Dr.  Gerd Gigerenzer is a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. In his ground-breaking book, GUT FEELINGS: THE INTELLIGENCE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS, he points out how how much of our mental life is grounded in processes alien to logic—gut feelings and intuitions. We have gut feelings about sports, friends, which foods to buy, which job to take, how to invest our money, which short-cut is shortest, who to marry (and other dangerous things). How do we know?
     Gigerenzer invites us on a journey into a largely neglected Land of Irrationality—populated by folks who are partially ignorant, whose time is limited, and whose future uncomfortably uncertain. The limitations of our rational thinking may force our brains to rely on unconscious gut feelings. No matter how carefully we list the pros and cons for a choice in columns on a piece of paper, when we look at the list, sometimes an inner voice tells us that the rational results don't feel right. Our hearts, often, have already decided.
     When we have choices to make, a beneficial degree of ignorance is often helpful. When we don't have enough facts, we rely on intuition rather than good reasons. The recognition heuristic, for example, describes how we infer qualities based on name recognition. (Marketers rely on this instinct in promoting brands.) The truth is that the instinct to go with what we know has survival value in the natural world. By relying on the familiar, early humans were more likely to live to see another day.
     Acting on instinct, however, does not mean we are blindly choosing. Consider a successful athlete who repeatedly catches, throws, or hits a ball without understanding how; nonetheless, the athlete's mind rapidly performs the equivalent of a complex differential mathematical calculation—computing the complex trajectory of a ball. When we successfully perform complex feats without understanding exactly how, we get a glimpse of the value of gut instincts. We have evolved mental methods that operate below our level of consciousness, yet lead us to superior choices. Without gut instincts, our brains would painfully short-circuit, lost in a sea of data.
     Perhaps we should celebrate the irresistible pull of irrational behavior in our lives? Ori and Rom Brafman illuminate rational explanations for a wide variety of our favorite irrational behaviors—then bemusedly suggest when we might want to avoid succumbing to some of them (SWAY: THE IRRESISTIBLE PULL OF IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOR). Why do people find it so hard to sell a stock that is plummeting on the market or end a clearly doomed romance? Drawing on new research from behavioral economics, social psychology, and organizational behavior, Sway reveals the variety of forces that feed our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid perceived losses (consequently losing still more). It's comforting to get more familiar with the irrational lures that inhabit our daily lives. {Count me swayed.}
     Dan Ariely has been on a roll with the study of irrationality in recent years. A cognitive psychologist, Dr. Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and the author of PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: THE HIDDEN FORCES THAT SHAPE OUR DECISIONS and THE UPSIDE OF IRRATIONALITY: THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF DEFYING LOGIC AT WORK AND AT HOME. People are consistently poor predictors of their own futures. We are grounded in our present and expect the future to be influenced by the same factors that influence our NOWs, so we neglect to imagine the changes in moods, people, events, finances, and passions that will populate our futures. Ariely is consistently creative and entertaining in sharing his experiments that show how and why we behave irrationally. We not only are faced with making decisions throughout our lives, but (horribly) we have to deal with the decisions other people make. Ariely's writing is funny, fascinating, and seductive—inviting us to a life with some happier decisional outcomes: the unexpected ways we defy logic at work, the IKEA Effect (why we overvalue what we make), why my ideas are better than yours, why we get used to things (but not all things, not always), adaptation and the beauty market, why we respond to one person who needs help but not to many, and the long-term effects of short-term emotions.

     Gut feelings and the struggle with decisions are an extraordinary and inescapable part of our lives, yet a lot of us have been content to remain blissfully ignorant of how gut feelings work. At the same time, we often dwell in the Land of Regret, wailing: "If only!" Our quirky gut feelings play a key role in making our lives rich, satisfying, and meaningful. {These authors may change the way you look at shopping, romance, health care, money, work, and even happiness.} 

 


Comments

08/06/2011 4:22pm

There has to be a balance between "knowing" and following one's gut feeling or nothing new would ever come to be. As a slightly reformed, obsessive compulsive artist, who is also a Virgo, with a strong desire to trust her intuition/gut feelings ... I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

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Paul
01/17/2012 3:01am

It is always a delight to find one with an active beautiful mind. There is a great book "The Ant and the Elephant" by Vince Poscente that tells about programming our ant (conscious mind) by feeding our elephant (gut or subconscious). I have made a life long habit of paying attention to my gut. I am not normally one to send a comment but it was such a delight to come across your site I had to comment. To quote you "well done".

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    SunWolf

    Continues to play with words, crayons, and odd possibilities.

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