CRF Blog

The Irony Effect

by David De La Torre

In The Irony Effect for Slate, Daniel Engber explores how Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize–winning psychologist who “who founded the science of mistakes,” ended up making some mistakes of his own.

This scientific study of scientific bias would ignite a romance of the mind, one that spanned several decades and ended up transforming both psychology and economics. Kahneman and Tversky went on to show that mistakes in human judgment are not exceptions but the rule, resulting from a host of mental shortcuts and distortions that cannot be avoided. We do not behave like “rational actors,” as economists once presumed; rather, we’re predictably misguided — subject to a “bounded rationality.” Tversky went on to win a MacArthur “genius” grant on the basis of their work. Kahneman would get a Nobel Prize.

The author Michael Lewis tells the tender, probing story of their lives and work together in his new book, The Undoing Project. It’s a portrait of besotted opposites: Both Kahneman and Tversky were brilliant scientists, and atheist Israeli Jews descended from Eastern European rabbis, but in every other way they seemed to differ. Kahneman liked to smoke; Tversky hated cigarettes. Kahneman was a morning person; Tversky worked at night. Kahneman’s office was a mess, with papers piled everywhere; Tversky preferred an empty room with nothing but a pencil and a desk. Kahneman could be shy, pessimistic, and depressive. Tversky was pugnacious and outgoing. Kahneman’s insight into bias was tied up with self-doubt, deriving from the careful excavation of weakness that he found within himself. Tversky seemed to study human folly through a telescope, as if he were peering at a far-off land. [more]