Kluge

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Kluge is a book by professor of psychology Gary Marcus, about the imperfections and imperfect design of the human mind. Kluge or kludge is a computer programming term, meaning a Rube Goldberg device, an assemblage that executes its purpose in a strange and roundabout way.

Overview

The book deals with the imperfect and often counterintuitive way the human mind works, due to the way it was shaped by evolution.

One running theme is the contrast between older parts of the mind, which are good at things like making snap decisions in a hurry, and the newer, more deliberative parts, which are better at planning and thinking through, but work much more slowly.

Critical thinking

The final chapter, True Wisdom, argues that the imperfection of the mind is a powerful argument against Intelligent Design, and also includes a list of tips for overcoming these imperfections, or working around them:

  1. Consider alternative hypotheses: was that noise in the attic a ghost, or could it have been a rat?
  2. Reframe the question: do condoms fail 1% of the time, or do they work 99% of the time?
  3. Correlation does not entail causation
  4. Never forget the size of your sample: draw conclusions from large trends, not from a few anecdotes
  5. Anticipate your own impulsivity: if you can't resist getting up in the middle of the night for an unhealthy snack, make sure you don't buy any unhealthy snack foods.
  6. Make contingency plans: plan for specific situations, e.g., "if I see french fries, I won't have any" rather than merely make vague plans, e.g., "I will lose weight this year".
  7. Don't make important decisions when tired: when we are tired or stressed, the deliberative mind is at even more of a disadvantage than normal.
  8. Weigh benefits against costs: when deciding whether to buy a big-screen TV, consider what else you could do with the money.
  9. Imagine that your decisions may be spot-checked: we behave differently when we think we may be held accountable.
  10. Distance yourself: imagine how the decision you make today will feel in six months.
  11. Beware the vivid: we react strongly to vivid and lurid stories and events; make sure they're not leading you the wrong way.
  12. Pick your spots: no one can think everything through all the time, so try to be rational in those cases where it'll do the most good.
  13. Try to be rational: even reminding ourselves to think can help us do so.

He ends with a few recommendations on improving education, centering mostly on teaching children how to think, rather than learning facts. In the age of the Internet, it is easy to look up facts; it is much more important to be able to tell a good source of information from a bad one.

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