Thinking, Fast and Slow

Reviews, Books

180720 Who Cares About Particle Physics?

Momentous topic and clear content shine through ho-hum writing style

180707 On Photography

Wonderful, challenging intro to art photography

180402 How to Write for Percussion

Companion to my next composition session

180108 The Character of Physical Law

Skip and watch the videos

170909 Capturing Music

Ideas for taiko notation

170904 How the Universe Got Its Spots

The ins and outs of being a physicist

170808 The Quantum Divide

Quantum theory through the lens of history-making experiments.

170731 Drawdown

Great resource for environmentalist priorities

170708 The New Urban Crisis

Important topic, deeply researched... impact hampered only by my weariness for figures.

170617 From Mathematics to Generic Programming

Rewarding at any level of engagement, from general historical overview to deep programming study.

170524 Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Quick but insubstantial read.

170311 Red Rover

Recommended for NASA lovers (aren't we all NASA lovers?!).

170225 Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life

Highly recommended, for the physics and to fall in love with the author

170123 The Life You Can Save: Effective giving against extreme poverty

How to target your charitable giving

170112 Contemporary Directions in Asian American Dance

Stiff academic writing contains gems

161224 The Spy Who Couldn't Spell

Slow start, didn't finis

161023 Los Angeles Union Station

LA nerds unite!

160927 The Art of Learning

What chess and competitive Tai Chi reveal about learning

160903 Walkable City

LA voters, please read!

160822 Ending Medical Reversal

Important book for navigating modern healthcare

160819 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

"Fixed" vs "growth" mindsets in excruciating detail

160815 Creativity: The Perfect Crime

An artists notebook

160808 The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World

Convincing case for role of econ in addressing climate change

160726 Whatever Happened to the Metric System?

For the love of measurement

160706 Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Useful reflection on the tragedy of our country's founding.

160620 Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music

About 30 pages in, I almost stopped reading. What a shame that would have been.

160613 Decorating with Architectural Trimwork

Examples of what not to do.

160613 More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home

Not so deep

160416 This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Fascinating and fair look at online troll culture

160405 Half-Earth

New environmental conservation goal: 50 percent of earth surface should be protected

160405 Birth of a Theorem

Rare insight into working mathematicians, charmingly opaque math.

160321 How to Bake Pi

Charming and though-provoking, if a bit scattered.

160319 Letters to a Young Scientist


160307 The Search for the Perfect Language

Only for language/history buffs

160307 Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance

Highly recommended for cyclists

160307 Black Hole

Recommended for cosmology lovers

150303 When Clothes Become Fashion

The best book I didn’t understand

150303 Art Power

Artful start, powerless end

150303 Brioni

Better than expected (the book and Brioni)

150303 This Changes Everything

Climate change facts and figures

150303 Designing, Building, and Testing Your Own Speaker System

Great starting point

150117 Pay Any Price

Useful info, shaky through-line.

150117 Cloudspotter’s Guide

Wanted to like it more.

150117 How We Got to Now

Science history!

150117 Closet Smarts

How to cover flaws (rather than redefine them)

150117 American Fashion

So-so intro to design of women's fashion design in America

150117 Charles James

Well-made cliche

141108 The Extreme Life of the Sea

A fun read for nature lovers

141108 Absolute Value

Vacuous book about a vacuous profession

141108 Real Talk for Real Teachers

The best book this month!

141108 The Dictionary of Fashion History

OK as reference, not useful to borrow

141108 Moving Through the Universe in Bare Feet

Not enough to take the leap

140919 Terpsichore in Sneakers

Awesome primer on post-modern dance

140919 It’s All About the Dress

It's too much about her

140919 Fashion

No theory, no groundbreaking fashion

140919 A History of Men’s Fashion

The best on the topic!

140919 Chanel

Uninspiring writing on an uninspiring designer

140909 Automotive Chassis and Body

The only source for this info!

140909 The Divide

Frustratingly important

140909 Missing Microbes

Slightly alarmist but worth reading

140909 The Code Book

Cryptography primer

140909 No Place To Hide

Thank you, Snowden!

140621 Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money

Agreeable premise, disagreeable writing

140621 How Bad Are Bananas

Facts and figures for the climate-aware

140621 Cool Tools

A bit thin on content

140621 The West Without Water

A CA water-drinker's resource

140412 A Perfect Moral Storm

Why accepting responsibility for climate change is hard

140412 The Sixth Extinction

Captivating, terrifying, motivating

140412 The Ethics of Climate Change

Life changing

140412 Climate Change

Good overview, likely outdated

140312 Climate Matters

Mix of esoteric philosophy and practical advice

140312 The Small Wood Shop

Inspiring ideas

140312 Sustainable Energy

Top-tier resource

140312 Eating Animals

Eat in line with your beliefs

140312 We are the Weather Makers

Not particularly inspiring

140312 Now or Never

Not my favorite on the subject

140312 How to Grow Fresh Air

So-so book on an awesome topic

140124 Mastery

Perfect for ambitious taiko players

140124 The Power Surge

Not groundbreaking but well-written and even-handed

140124 The Silent Pulse

Unnecessarily mystical

140124 Delusions of Gender

Part of the long march toward gender fluidity

140124 Stuff

Fascinating trivia yearning for more depth

140124 The Time of Music

Great for percussion composers

131121 The End of Money

Uninteresting book by a cash-hater

131121 Traffic

Required reading for LA residents

131121 Fresh Lipstick

Nuanced connections between fashion and feminism

130710 Web of Debt

Confirmation of why I don't like loans

130710 The Castle

Engagingly tedious

130710 Just Being At the Piano

The musician's path

130710 Contagious

How to trade integrity for popularity

130710 Pension Fund Politics

A useful, if biased, opinion

130710 Ethical Markets

Great points poorly written

130710 The SRI Advantage

The bottom-line benefits of socially-responsible investing. (Are those what matter?)

130710 Thinking, Fast and Slow

For all thinkers!

130710 The Fashion Reader

Critical fashion textbook

130413 Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire

A classic!

130413 Kanjincho

Serviceable summary of the play

130413 The Inner Game of Tennis

Great for teachers and students

130413 The Creative Director

Great for taiko teachers and composers

130413 Effortless Mastery

How to become the music

130413 The Green Collar Economy

A rising sea floats all boats

130413 A Universe From Nothing

Connections between the smallest and largest scales of the universe

130413 Steal Like An Artist

Thin. Should have stolen more content

130413 Antifragile

A challenging, deep tome

121231 Trust Me I’m Lying

Resist all advertising

121231 Notes and Tones

Felt guilty not liking this... will try again when I'm a more mature musician

121231 How Much Is Enough?

Info for the good life

121231 What Money Can’t Buy

Important read to resist the negative influences of markets

121231 How Music Works

Will check out again

121231 Which Side Are You On?

What page are you on? I stopped reading.

121231 Turing’s Cathedral

The personal computer's sordid start

121128 How Children Succeed

The fundamentals behind student success

121128 Basic MIG Welding Practices

Not useful

121128 The Handplane Book

Decent overview

121128 Towards A Poor Theatre

Interesting take on stage "honesty"

121128 Drift

Better than the TV show

121128 Welder’s Handbook

Great beginning welder's book

121128 Imagine

Can imagine worse... can imagine better

121128 Working with Handplanes

Good collection of articles

121128 Mathematics

Helped me love math

121128 Rethinking A Lot

Useful for LA commuters

120901 Choreography and the Specific Image

Not particularly inspiring

120901 Workshop Math

Oh to be a renaissance man!

120901 Kill or Capture

Still a pacifist but more understanding of Obama

120901 Being Watched

Useful inspiration when chorographing

120901 The Man Who Quit Money

Inspiring approach to life

120901 Consent of the Networked

The revolution will not be on Facebook

120901 The Net Delusion

Internet policy required to protect democracy

120901 The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

Why we lie and how to resist it

120701 The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

Great. And video is even better.

120701 The Intimate Act of Choreography

Great for choreographer's block

120701 The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance

Expertise is an adaptation

120701 The Art of Making Dances

Absolutely inspiring!

120701 Predator Nation

Wasn't in the mood for self loathing?

120701 Flow

Didn't finish... flowed on to the next book

120701 Feelings Are Facts

Insight into genius

120701 Free

Decent but not as inspiring as Eben Moglen

120701 Redirect

How to create productive self-narratives

120701 iDisorder

Not my (tech-inspired) problems

120604 Canning for a New Generation

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Canning for a New Generation
Liana Krissoff
pub. 2010, 303p
source: LAPL

120604 Make Space

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration
Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft
pub. 2012, 272p
source: LAPL

120604 Salted

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Salted – A manifesto on the world’s most essential mineral, with recipes
Mark Bitterman
pub. 2010, 312p
source: LAPL

120604 Choreography Observed

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Choreography Observed
Scott Belsky
pub. 1987, 294p
source: LAPL

120604 Making Ideas Happen

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Making Ideas Happen – Overcoming the obstacles between vision & reality
Scott Belsky
pub. 2010, 242p
source: LAPL

120410 Adapt

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Adapt, Why Success Always Starts With Failure
Tim Harford
pub. 2011, 309p
source: LAPL

120410 Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars
William Patry
pub. 2009, 266p
source: LAPL

120410 The Creative Habit

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

The Creative Habit – Learn It and Use It for Life
Twyla Tharp
pub. 2003, 243p
source: LAPL

120410 A Guide to the Japanese Stage

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

A Guide to the Japanese Stage
Ronald Cavaye, Paul Griffith, Akihiko Senda
pub. 2004, 287p
source: LAPL

120410 Willpower

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
pub. 2011, 291p
source: LAPL

120410 Knocking on Heaven’s Door

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How physics and scientific thinking illuminate the universe and the modern world
Lisa Randall
pub. 2011, 442p
source: LAPL

120410 IBM and the Holocaust

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

IBM and the Holocaust, The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation
Edwin Black
pub. 2001, 519p
source: LAPL

111220 Creative License

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Creative License, The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling
Kembrew McLeod, Peter DiCola
pub. 2011, 325p
source: LAPL

111220 Program Or Be Programmed

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Program Or Be Programmed: Ten commands for a digital age
Douglas Rushkoff
pub. 2010, 149p
source: LAPL

111220 Using Drupal

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Using Drupal
Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Nathan Haug, Jeff Eaton, James Walker, Jeff Robbins
pub. 2009, 464p
source: LAPL

111220 The Chairs Are Where the People Go

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

111220 But Will the Planet Notice

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

But Will the Planet Notice — How Smart Economics Can Save the World
Gernot Wagner
pub. 2011, 258p
source: LAPL

The book’s ending provides the most concise summary.

111220 Moby Dick

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Moby Dick
Herman Melville
pub. 1851, 620p
source: LAPL

Just as I was lamenting my long lapse from reading fiction, my mom recommended Moby Dick. Why not be ambitious?!

I loved it.

111022 Moonwalking With Einstein

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Moonwalking With Einstein — The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Joshua Foer
pub. 2011, 307p
source: LAPL

111022 Life Inc.

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Life Inc. — How the World Became A Corporation and How to Take It Back
Douglas Rushkoff
pub. 2011, 247p
source: LAPL

111022 Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed — Educating for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century
Howard Gardner
pub. 2011, 244p
source: LAPL

111022 The Art Instinct

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

The Art Instinct: beauty, pleasure, & human evolution
Denis Dutton
pub. 2009, 278p
source: LAPL

111022 Physics for Entertainment

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Physics for Entertainment
Yakov Perelman
pub. 2008, 330p
source: LAPL

110917 Freedom of Expression

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

Freedom of Expression – Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity
Kembrew McLeod
pub. 2005, 375p
source: LAPL

110917 Learning OpenCV

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

Learning OpenCV: Computer Vision with the OpenCV Library
Gary Bradski & Adrian Kaehler
pub. 2008, 555p
source: LAPL

110917 Small Is Beautiful

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

Small Is Beautiful — Economics as if People Mattered
E. F. Schumacher
pub. 2010, 324p
source: LAPL

110917 The Warrior Diet

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

The Warrior Diet
Ori Hofmekler
pub. 2001, 359p
source: LAPL

110723 The Essential Touring Cyclist

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

The Essential Touring Cyclist
Richard A. Lovett
pub. 2001, 160p
source: LAPL

110723 The One Pan Gourmet

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

The One Pan Gourmet: Fresh food on the trail
Don Jacobson
pub. 2005, 182p
source: LAPL

110723 Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook — Worldwode Cycle Route & Planning Guide
Stephen Lord
pub. 2006, 288p
source: LAPL

110723 Designing Furniture

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Designing Furniture: from concept to shopt drawing, a practical guide
Seth Stem
pub. 1989, 215p
source: LAPL

110723 Great Soul

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India
Joseph Lelyveld
pub. 2011, 425p
source: LAPL

110723 The Perfect Edge

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

The Perfect Edge — The Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers
Ron Hock
pub. 2009, 221p
source: LAPL

110723 Practical Furniture Design

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Practical Furniture Design: from Drawing Board to Smart Construction
various authors
pub. 2009, 268p
source: LAPL, no longer available

110708 The Information

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

The Information: a history, a theory, a flood
James Gleik
pub. 2011, 526p
source: LAPL

110708 Decoded

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

Jay Z
pub. 2010, 317p
source: LAPL

110708 Einstein: The Life and Times

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

Einstein: The Life and Times
Ronald W. Clark
pub. 1984, 878p
source: LAPL

110708 The 4% Universe

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

The 4 Percent Universe: Dark matter, dark energy, and the race to discover the rest of reality
Richard Panek
pub. 2011, 297p
source: LAPL

110708 Celebration of Awareness

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

Celebration of Awareness: A Call for Institutional Revolution
Ivan Illich
pub. 1989, 189p
source: LAPL

110708 In the Mirror of the Past

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

In the Mirror of the Past, Lectures and Addresses 1978-1990
Ivan Illich
pub. 1992, 231p
source: LAPL

110708 The Workbench

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

The Workbench – A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench
Lon Schleining
pub. 2004, 202p
source: LAPL

110509 The Happiness Project

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

The Happiness Project
Gretchen Rubin
pub. 2009, 301p
source: LAPL

110509 Michael Polanyi

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Michael Polanyi
Mark T. Mitchell
pub. 2006, 195p
source: LAPL

110509 Organizing from the Inside Out

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Organizing from the Inside Out
Julie Morgenstern
pub. 2004, 320p
source: LAPL

110509 Massive

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Massive – The Missing Particle that Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science
Ian Sample
pub. 2010, 260p
source: LAPL

110509 Against Method

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Against Method
Paul Feyerabend
pub. 1978, 339p
source: LAPL

110509 Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite — Evolution and the Modular Mind
Robert Kurzban
pub. 2010, 274p
source: LAPL

110509 Modern Spice

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Modern Spice — Inspired indian flavors for the contemporary kitchen
Monica Bhide
pub. 2009, 265p
source: LAPL

110509 Making Workbenches

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Making Workbenches
Sam Allen
pub. 1995, 160p
source: LAPL

110509 Treasure Chests

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Treasure Chests, the Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes
Lon Schleining
pub. 2001, 200p
source: LAPL

110509 The Workbench Book

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

The Workbench Book
Scott Landis
pub. 1998, 247p
source: LAPL

110401 A Long Way Gone

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

A Long Way Gone – Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah
pub. 2007, 229p
source: LAPL

110401 The Moral Landscape

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

The Moral Landscape – How Science Can Determine Human Values
Sam Harris
pub. 2010, 291p
source: LAPL

110401 The Science of Good and Evil

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

The Science of Good and Evil – Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Michael Shermer
pub. 2004, 350p
source: LAPL

110401 The Master Switch

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

The Master Switch
Tim Wu
pub. 2010, 366p
source: LAPL

110401 Piracy

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

Piracy – The Intellectual Property Wars From Gutenberg to Gates
Adrian Johns
pub. 2009, 626p
source: LAPL

101024 Decoding the Universe

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

Decoding the Universe
Charles Seife
pub. 2007, 296p
source: LAPL

101024 The Gift

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
Lewis Hyde
pub. 2007, 435p
source: LAPL

101024 Very Special Relativity

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

Very Special Relativity
Sander Bais
pub. 2007, 120p
source: LAPL

101024 Common As Air

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

Common As Air – Revolution, Art, and Ownership
Lewis Hyde
pub. 2010, 306p
source: LAPL

101024 The Shallows

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains
Nicholas Carr
pub. 2010, 304p
source: LAPL

101024 Shop Class As Soulcraft

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

Shop Class As Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
Matthew B. Crawford
pub. 2009, 246p
source: LAPL

101024 The Matchbox That Ate A Fourty-Ton Truck

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

The Matchbox That Ate A Fourty-Ton Truck – What everyday things tell us about the universe
Marcus Chown
pub. 2010, 269p
source: LAPL

101024 Payback

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

Payback, Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
Margaret Atwood
pub. 2008, 230p
source: LAPL

100828 Laban for Actors and Dancers

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Laban for Actors and Dancers
Jean Newlove
pub. 1993, 158p
source: LAPL

100828 Alphabet of Movements of the Human Body

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Alphabet of Movements of the Human Body
Vladimir Ivanovitch Stepanov
pub. 1969, 47p
source: LAPL

100828 On the Count of One

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

On the Count of One
Elizabeth Sherbon
pub. 1969, 47p
source: LAPL

100828 Dance Notation – The Process of Recording Movement on Paper

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Dance Notation – The Process of Recording Movement on Paper
Ann Hutchinson Guest
pub. 1984, 226p
source: LAPL

100828 Dance Writing Shorthand for Modern and Jazz Dance

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Dance Writing Shorthand for Modern and Jazz Dance
Valerie Sutton
pub. 1984, 226p
source: author website

100828 Principles of Dance and Movement Notation

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Principles of Dance and Movement Notation
Rudolf Laban
pub. 1956, 56p
source: LAPL

100828 Movement Study and Benesh Movement Notation

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Movement Study and Benesh Movement Notation
Julia McGuinness-Scott
pub. 1983, 148p
source: LAPL

100828 Your Move

[Originally posted at as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Your Move
Ann Hutchinson Guest and Tina Curran
pub. 1993, 158p
source: LAPL, no longer available

100630 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – June 2010"]


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami
pub. 2008, 179p
source: LAPL

100630 Healing with Whole Foods

I eat like this for totally different reasons

100630 Beautiful Evidence

More great Tufte!

100504 The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint


100504 Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value

Not my favorite on behavioral economics

100504 Brain Rules

Can you find the signed copy at LAPL?!

100504 The Ethics of Authenticity

Didn't finish

100504 Virtual Music, Computer Synthesis of Musical Style

David Cope is incredible!

100401 The Art of Possibility

Zander's TED talk outshines this book

100401 Ayn Rand and the World She Made

The best way to know Ayn Rand

100401 Visual Explanations

Good as primer to "V.D. of Q.I."

100401 The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The best in the field

100401 Envisioning Information

Read everything by Tufte

100401 Just Food

Good info, so-so writing

100401 Money for Nothing

Insight into a sleazy industry by a half-reformed opportunist

090709 Outliers

A classic

090709 Musicophilia

A scientist's appreciation of music

090709 This is Your Brain on Music

A fun look at the biology behind music

081227 home-construction (various)

All-things house design

Thinking, Fast and Slow

[Originally posted at as "Recent book reviews – July 2013"]

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman
pub. 2011, 499p
source: LAPL

What a wonderful book! Thinking, Fast and Slow is essentially a massive collection of all of Kahneman’s thoughts on psychology and decision-making, with references to his own lifetime of research and the full historical record of ground-breaking experiments. He frames the topic with the (purely imaginary) concept of two systems of brain function; System 1 is the intuitive, reactionary brain and System 2 is the contemplative, logical brain. In themed chapters with titles like, “Attention and Effort” and “Intuitions vs Formulas”, he shows where each of these two systems excels and where they fail. He makes recommendations for how to recognize when a problem might trigger an inappropriate response from either system, and thus how to resist our bias toward poor decisions in these circumstances. Long, but well worth the read!

As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved. … Laziness is built into our nature.

(on “priming”) In an experiment that became an instant classic, the psychologist John Bargh and his collaborators asked students at New York University — most aged eighteen to twenty-two — to assemble four-word sentences from a set of five words (for example, “finds he it yellow instantly”). For one group of students, half the scrambled sentences contained words associated with the elderly, such as Florida, forgetful, bald, gray or wrinkle. When they had completed that task, the young participants were sent out to do another experiment in an office down the hall. That short walk was what the experiment was all about. The researchers unobtrusively measured the time it took people to get from one end of the corridor to the other. As Bargh had predicted, the young people who had fashioned a sentence from words with an elderly theme walked down the hallway significantly more slowly than the others.

Other primes were much more subtle, including the presence of an irrelevant money-related object in the background, such as a stack of Monopoly money on a table, or a computer with a screen saver of dollar bills floating in water.

Money primed people become more independent than they would be without the associative trigger. They persevered almost twice as long in trying to solve a very difficult problem before they asked the experimenter for help, a crisp demonstration of increased self-reliance. Money-primed people are also more selfish: they were much less willing to spend time helping another student who pretended to be confused about an experimental task. When an experimenter clumsily dropped a bunch of pencils on the floor, the participants with money (unconsciously) on their mind picked up fewer pencils. In another experiment in the series, participants were told that they would shortly have a get-acquainted conversation with another person and were asked to set up two chairs while the experimenter left to retrieve that person. Participants primed by money chose to stay much farther apart than their nonprimed peers (118 vs. 80 centimeters). Money-primed undergraduates also showed a greater preference for being alone.

  • Strokes cause almost twice as many deaths as all accidents combined, but 80% of respondents judged accidental death to be more likely.
  • Tornados were seen as more frequent killers than asthma, although the latter cause 20 times more deaths.
  • Death by lighting was judged less likely than death from botulism even though it is 52 times more frequent.
  • Death by disease is 18 times more likely as accidental death, but the two were judged about equally likely.
  • Death by accidents was judged to be more than 300 times more likely than death by diabetes, but the true ratio is 1:4.

The social norm against stereotyping, including the opposition to profiling, has been highly beneficial in creating a more civilized and more equal society. It is useful to remember, however, that neglecting valid stereotypes inevitably results in suboptimal judgments. Resistance to stereotyping is a laudable moral position, but the simplistic idea that the resistance is costless is wrong. The costs are worth paying to achieve a better society, but denying that the costs exist, while satisfying to the soul and politically correct, is not scientifically defensible. Reliance on the affect heuristic is common in politically charged arguments. The positions we favor have no cost and those we oppose have no benefits. We should be able to do better.

“On many occasions I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic maneuver. The next time they try the same maneuver they usually do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed into a cadet’s earphone for bad execution, and in general he does better on his next try. So please don’t tell us that reward works and punishment does not, because the opposite is the case.

This was a joyous moment of insight, when I saw in a new light a principle of statistics that I had been teaching for years. The instructor was right — but he was also completely wrong! His observation was astute and correct: occasions on which he praised a performance were likely to be followed by a disappointing performance, and punishments were typically followed by an improvement. But the inference he had drawn about the efficacy of reward and punishment was completely off the mark. What he had observed is known as regression to the mean, which in that case was due to random fluctuations in the quality of the performance.

Julie is currently a senior in a state university. She read fluently when she was four years old. What is her grade point average (GPA)?

  1. Start with an estimate of average GPA.
  2. Determine the GPA that matches your impression of the evidence.
  3. Estimate the correlation between your evidence and GPA.
  4. If the correlation is .30, move 30% of the distance from the average to the matching GPA.

Step 1 gets you the baseline, the GPA you would have predicted if you were told nothing about Julie beyond the fact that she is a graduating senior. In the absence of information, you would have predicted the average. Step 2 is your intuitive prediction, which matches your evaluation of the evidence. Step 3 moves you from the baseline toward your intuition, but the distance you are allowed to move depends on your estimate of the correlation. You end up, at step 4, with a prediction that is influenced by your intuition but is far more moderate.

The conclusion is straightforward: the decision weights that people assign to outcomes are not identical to the probabilities of these outcomes, contrary to the expectation principle. Improbably outcomes are overweighted — that is the possibility effect. Outcomes that are almost certain are underweighted relative to actual certainty.

…I will call it denominator effect… When I think of the small urn (10 marbles, 1 red), I see a single red marble on a vaguely defined background of white marbles. When I think of the larger urn (100 marbles, 8 red), I see eight winning red marbles on an indistinct background of white marbles, which creates a more hopeful feeling.

Women who have a mate spend less time alone, but also much less time with friends. They spend more time making love, which is wonderful, but also more time doing housework, preparing food, and caring for children, all relatively unpopular activities. And of course, the large amount of time married women spend with their husband is much more pleasant for some than for others. Experienced well-being is on average unaffected by marriage, not because marriage makes no difference to happiness but because it changes some aspects of life for the better and others for the worse.

In part because of these findings I have changed my mind about the definition of well-being. The goals that people set for themselves are so important to what they do and how they feel about it that an exclusive focus on experienced well-being is not tenable. We cannot hold a concept of well-being that ignores what people want. On the other hand, it is also true that a concept of well-being that ignores how people feel as they live and focuses on how they feel when they think about their life is also untenable. We must accept the complexities of a hybrid view, in which the well-being of both selves is considered.

Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson introduced the word miswanting to describe bad choices that arise from errors of affective forecasting.

Although Humans are not irrational, they often need help to make more accurate judgments and better decisions, and in some cases policies and institutions can provide that help. These claims may seem innocuous, but they are in fact quite controversial. As interpreted by the important Chicago school of economics, faith in human rationality is closely linked to an ideology in which it is unnecessary and even immoral to protect people against their choices. Rational people should be free, and they should be responsible for taking care of themselves. Milton Friedman, the leading figure in that school …

For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by a society that feels obligated to help them. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes therefore presents a dilemma for behavioral economists.