Tag Archives: heuristics and biases

My rational thinking books of the year (Part 1)

30 Dec

This time of year the newspapers seem to be full of articles listing celebrities favourite books of the year, so I thought I’d join in. Although strictly it was published at the end of 2011, my 2012 rational thinking book of the year is ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

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Daniel Kahneman is one of the world’s most influential psychologists, who has led research on how we think for nearly forty year. In addition he won the 2002 Nobel Prize for economics. ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow” is an accessible summation of the literature on thinking that was spawned by Tversky & Kahneman’s seminal 1974 paper ‘Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases ‘. If you’re interested in teaching rational thinking you really should know about Kahneman’s work, and this book provides a great introduction that doesn’t require any background knowledge of psychology. For me, it provides the material for one of the components of my rational thinking curriculum.

I’d happily argue that graduates of any discipline ought to have a basic understanding of the content of this book. For most this might come by being taught the material, but for strong students I’d encourage them to read the book for themselves. It’s current available for £6.29 from amazon.co.uk, and I can think of many worse ways for students to spend any spare cash !

Reviews of ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow”

Association for Psychological Science 

New York Times

Financial Times

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A rational thinking curriculum / syllabus

4 Dec
The_Thinker_Musee_Rodin
I presented my work at a recent university conference, and it led me to think about how what I do could be developed. I’m a psychologist, and teach psychology students but the more I think about it the more it seems that what I do has a broader relevance. There is a long tradition in British higher education of the generic nature of graduate skills. One of my favourite quotations about the nature of graduates comes from one of John Henry Newman’s lectures in 1852, where he suggested ‘to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant’ were the key characteristics of graduates. One hundred and forty years later Newman’s quotation crops up in another attempt to define ‘graduateness’ in the HEQC’s 1985 paper ’Clarifying The Attributes Of ‘Graduateness

I’ve written elsewhere about my dislike of the traditional critical thinking literature, and thus I’m not convinced that it has much to contribute trying to contruct a rational thinking curriculum. However, psychology’s own empirical literature does offer a number of areas that can offer a start. At the end of his book ‘What is Intelligence ?’, that offers an explanation of the strange phenomena of ever-increasing IQ scores, the brilliant Jim Flynn proposes a list of ten concepts that might result in continuation of IQ growth:

1) Market forces

2) Percentages

3) Natural Selection

4) Control Groups

5) Random Samples

6) Naturalistic fallacy

7) Charisma effect

8) Placebo

9) Falsifiability

10) Tolerance school fallacy

I would add to additional concepts of my own to Jim Flynn’s list :

11) The importance of historical context

12) Heuristics and biases

I’d suggest that you can group these items into three broad areas:

1) The scientific method (4,5,8 & 9)

2) Useful concepts (1,2,3,11 & 12)

3) The structure of logical arguments (6 & 10)

As my rational thinking course has evolved over the last five years I’ve covered many of these concepts, but given that I’ve always taught psychology students I’ve tailored the examples I’ve used towards psychology. However, I’m now thinking that it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to recast those examples to appeal to a generic student audience and the address the basic curriculum I’ve outlined above. Over the next few months I’m going to try to put together generic examples that fit into the framework I’ve detailed above. I’ll post the examples here as I progress.

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