Think about it

John Allen Paulos

  • Irrationality: The Enemy Within by Stuart Sutherland
    Constable, 357 pp, £14.95, November 1992, ISBN 0 09 471220 4

Studies have shown repeatedly that children with bigger feet reason better than do those with smaller feet. Many of you have probably noticed this very strong correlation yourselves. Of course, there is no causal connection here. Children with bigger feet reason better because they’re older. Irrationality: The Enemy Within is about the mistakes, misconceptions, and unfounded assumptions that muddle decision-making in everyday life and in a wide variety of occupations. People don’t notice associations that are strong, they believe in causal connections that are non-existent, infer significance where there is only chance, remain immune to overwhelming evidence, and are over-responsive to dramatic incidents. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is that its grand pronouncements are few and its specific illustrations plentiful. The author does not attempt a general analysis of rationality. Hume’s notorious problem of induction, for example, is mentioned only to be dismissed, as are concerns about our ultimate ends or purposes. The book is, rather, a compendium of psychological studies and real-world instances whose central thesis is that most of us make critical mistakes in reasoning.

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