RSS

Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

139. Books Bought & Read, February 2015…

65 books bought.

That’s more than many people read in a year. More than some read in a lifetime.

Any other month, having read 23 books would have felt like quite an accomplishment, even for me.

Not this month.

I blame my brother and girlfriend, enablers of the worst possible kind. What kind of brother and girlfriend take me to an annual Brooklyn Park Slope book sale? With thousands of books on dozens of rickety tables just begging to be taken to a good home?! In my defence, I repaid their kindness in books, so not all of those 65 were for me…but most of them were.

And that was before I’d even set foot in my temple, The Strand

My favourite item of merchandise from The Strand...

My favourite item of merchandise from The Strand…

Series were this month’s obsession: a gift of the classic Ursula K Le Guin trilogy and the discovery of the wonderfully messed up Lemony Snicket tales by Daniel Handler were the cause of a few hours reading, and as ever when I’m in NY there were some great kids’ books which my niece introduced me to, (I finally got to read Oliver Jeffers‘ ‘The Day The Crayons Quit,’ which I’m not ashamed to say I became quite choked up over when she told me it was her ‘favourite ever,‘ since I bought it for her).

pn-907_2z

Whilst buying books as presents I had time to indulge in some re-reading, (something I very rarely do), of favourites such as Neil Gaiman, but there were four books which stood out and which I highly recommend for completely differing reasons:

Firstly, if you love the lost art of letters, and history, and a gorgeously bound book, ‘Letters Of Note‘ was just made for you. Originally a popular website, this was the biggest success story of the book-only crowd-funding website I love so much, Unbound, and I read it on my iPhone before gifting it to my girlfriend’s parents. If you want to read about how Elvis became Nixon’s drugs sheriff, how JFK was rescued from a desert island by carving an SOS into a coconut, or how Adolf Hitler’s nephew requested the right to join the US army to find the Nazis, all of this and more come straight from the source in one of the most fascinating, touching, educational and downright gorgeous books I have ever read.

8360044337_9f482c6c63_o

18078311

Secondly, if you like to know how the world works, and have a thirst for topics as wide-ranging as baseball statistics, earthquakes, betting, voting, poker and the weather forecast, Nate Silver has the book for you. My brother had been recommending this meaty tome to me for a while, and the flight from Europe to the US was perfect for finally finding out what it means when a weather forecast says there is a 40% or a 60% chance of rain, (and why it is almost never 50%); how to predict elections; and how chess computers learned to beat Grand Masters. Among many, many other things. This was like a Gladwell book on super fast-forward, (and I’m sure you know by now how much I love a good Gladwell book!)

The_Signal_and_the_Noise_by_Nate_Silver_book_cover_001

Thirdmost, after being incredibly disappointed by his ‘A Hologram For The King,’ Dave Eggers returned to wonderful, weird, genre-busting, hilarious form with the fantastically titled ‘Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ I won’t tell you anything about it. Just go and read it. It’s lots of fun.

51OWthNqCVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Finally, a gorgeous edition of a book I had never heard of, and an author I really should have, proved that not only should you sometimes judge a book by its cover, but if you’re lucky that book will be wondrously weird and also contain an introduction by one of your all time favourite authors, as Neil Gaiman was there in the opening pages to tell me that when it comes to James Thurber’sThe 13 Clocks,‘ “…there has never been anything like this before, and there will never be anything like this again.”

13clocks-cover1

It is, indeed, a gem of a nonsense children’s book, by an author I hope to explore further, but don’t let children hog all the fun.

(You can even get a free Kindle download of it here.)

).

Books Bought, February 2015

National Geographic: 100 melhores imagens,’ (National Georgaphic: the 100 best photos)

Violeta e Indigo Descobrem Picasso,’ (‘Violet and Indigo discover Picasso’), Isabel Zambuiac & Júlio Vanzelar

Violeta e Indigo Descobrem Leonardo Da Vinci,’ (‘Violet and Indigo discover Leonardo Da Vince’)Isabel Zambuiac & Júlio Vanzelar x2

Estorvo,’ (‘Nuisance’), Chico Buarque

Jerusalém,’ Gonçalo M.Tavares

The Believer Magazine’ issues 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

A Man: Klaus Klump,’ Gonçalo M.Tavares

The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’ ed. Chris Monk & John Warner

Sprezzatura,’ Peter D’Epiro & Mary Desmond Pinkowish

Barracuda,’ Christos Tsiolkas

Another Day Of Life,’ Ryszard Kapuściński

Founding Brothers,’ Joseph J.Ellis

13 Days,’ Robert Kennedy

Coach,’ Michael Lewis

Happiness: ten years of n+1′

The Little Endless Story Book,’ Jill Murphy

I Feel Bad About My Neck,’ Nora Ephron

Leaving Microsoft To Change The World,’ John Wood

The Genius Of Language,’ ed. Wendy Lesser

The Bedside Book Of Beasts,’ Graeme Gibson

I Explain A Few Things: selected poems,’ Pablo Neruda

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,’ Dave Eggers

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.3, the wide window, ,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.4, the miserable hill, ,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.5, the austere academy,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.6, the ersatz elevator,Lemony Snicket

S,’ J.J.Abrams & Doug Dorst

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ Dave Eggers

Zeitoun,’ Dave Eggers

The Convalescent,’ Jessica Anthony

The Path To The Spiders’ Nests,’ Italo Calvino

Far From The Tree,’ Andrew Solomon

The Noonday Demon,’ Andrew Solomon

Hergé: son of tintin,’ Benoît Peeters

The Time Traveler’s Wife,’ Audrey Niefenegger

The Cheese Monkeys: a novel in 2 semesters,’ Chip Kidd

Blindness,’ José Saramago

Number9Dream,’ David Mitchell

Haroun And The Sea Of Stars,’ Salman Rushdie

The Better Of McSweeney’s’

‘I Am A Cat,’ Natsume Soseki

For The Relief Of Unbearable Urges,’ Nathan Englander

Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn

The Tipping Point,’ Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers,’ Malcolm Gladwell

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.11, the grim grotto,Lemony Snicket

Atonement,’ Ian McEwan

Boy Detective Fails,’ Joe Meno

Clockwork,’ Philip Pullman

Mating,’ Norman Rush

Written On the Body,’ Jeanette Winterson

First Love/The Diary Of A Superfluous Man,’ Ivan Turgenev

Poet In New York,’ Federico García Lorca

Holidays On Ice,’ David Sedaris

The 13 Clocks,’ James Thurber

The Further Adventures Of The Queen Mum,’ Harry Hill

Myth: a very short introduction,’ Robert A.Segal

Movie Charts: comedy graphs of the films you love,’ Paul Copperwaite

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

The Last Wild,’ Piers Torday

Emil And The Detectives,’ Erich Kästner

Rembrandt,’ Michael Brockemühl

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory,’ Roald Dahl

The Hueys In:  the new jumper,’ Oliver Jeffers

Letters Of Note,’ ed.Shaun Usher

.

Books Read, February 2015

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.6′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.7′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Coach: lessons on the game of life,’ Michael Lewis

Letters Of Note: an eclectic collection of correspondence deserving of a wider audience,’ ed.Shaun Usher borges

I Feel Bad About My Neck,’ Nora Ephron

The Little Endless Storybook,’ Jill Thompson
.
The Runaway Dinner,’ Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman
.

Clockwork,’ Philip Pullman

The 13 Clocks,’ James Thurber borges

Fortunately, The Milk…,’ Neil Gaiman

The Signal And The Noise: the art and science of prediction,’  Nate Silver borges

Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ Dave Eggers borges

The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’ ed. Chris Monk & John Warner borges

The Hueys In:  the new jumper,’ Oliver Jeffers

The Further Adventures Of The Queen Mum,’ Harry Hill

Movie Charts: comedy graphs of the films you love,’ Paul Copperwaite

The Wizard Of Earthsea,’ Ursula K. Le Guin
.

The Tombs Of Atuan,’ Ursula K. Le Guin

The Farthest Shore,’ Ursula K. Le Guin

The Day The Crayons Quit,’ Oliver Jeffers & Drew Daywalt borges

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.1, the bad beginning, ,Lemony Snicket
.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.2, the reptile room,’ Lemony Snicket

  22468694 url Day-the-crayons-quit 41O40VyjajL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ CopenhagenCover 518uXiQBLXL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ 410IkGE05ZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ 51OWthNqCVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ 9781406305494 {8262073E-A486-40F3-8F46-F4424EA3AC35}Img400 758506 FortunatelytheMilk_HardbackUK_1365440376 31d-iuFbDiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ 13clocks-cover1 51EmFRiCeHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The_Signal_and_the_Noise_by_Nate_Silver_book_cover_001 entrevistas-2da851H7Uk-veNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_the-bad-beginning reptileroom11
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 15, 2015 in BOOKS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

138. Books Bought & Read, January 2015…

138. Books Bought & Read, January 2015…

2015 saw me begin the new year back in the UK for a wonderful New Year’s party and an even more wonderful wedding on the plains near Stonehenge, (the shape of which I read recently gives us the word for ‘hanging’ someone, which explains why it’s past tense is ‘hanged’ and not ‘hung, since it comes from a different origin. Amazing what you can learn in this blog, huh?)

As such, with no tours to distract me and some long-distance travelling to do, I managed to get through twenty of the books I in my To Read pile.

1379768_10151672339693837_1365934418_n

Sadly, that was the exact number of books I picked up whilst I was home, but a net average of zero books added to The Pile still goes down as a minor victory.

I also got to read some fantastic books: the latest George SaundersTenth of December‘ was as wonderful as its hyperbolic blurbs made out, and I also got through one of his earlier collections.

Tenth-of-December

A second-hand bookshop in Lisbon had furnished me with some gorgeous 1940’s Penguin paperbacks which were perfect for travel, and I got to read something by Aldous Huxley which wasn’t ‘Brave New World‘ and some Camus ,whom I I hadn’t even thought about since University.

                                                          url4e09048c2afffe7f432c856804d6c21d

I continued my Portuguese practice and my cultural immersion by reading four fantastic compilations of interviews released weekly with a Portuguese newspaper, where I learned (among other things) that dictator António Salazar had a signed photo of Mussolini on his desk, and that Alfred Hitchcock had a passionate hatred for eggs which he managed to slip, often bizarrely, into his movies.

entrevistas-2da8 Grandes entrevistas da História - capas (2014)

It was non-fiction which really stole the show this month: I learned about the history of maps, (did you know the word ‘orientation’ comes from the fact that old European maps used to have East at the top, that being the way to The Promised Land?), the psychology of possessions, and the mentality of champions, but the best read of them all was the compilation of articles by Gene Weingarten, a journalist and proto-Malcolm Gladwell who is, apparently, the only person to ever win the Pulitzer Prize twice.

url-1

The Fiddler In The Subway‘ was an incredible look at everything from a children’s entertainer in Washington DC to the importance of context in appreciating beauty in our packed daily lives, (the famous experiment of the title).

The one that will never leave me is the chilling report into how astonishingly often parents leave babies in cars and forget about them: it was simultaneously something that I wanted everyone in the world to read, and something I would never want them to have to hear about. If you have a strong stomach, you can read it here.

.

Books Bought, January 2015

Tenth Of December,’ George Saunders

Alice’s Adventures Underground,’ Lewis Carroll

The Sandmanking of dreams,’ Alisa Kwitney

Fortunately, The Milk…’ Neil Gaiman

The Subtle Knife,’ Philip Pullman

The Amber Spyglass,’ Philip Pullman

Barracuda,’ Christos Tsiolkas

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour,’ Joshua Ferris

‘Don’t Point That Thing At Me,’ Kyril Bonfigliolo

The Little Prince,’ Antoine de St.Exupéry

The World Of Downton Abbey,’ Jennifer Fellowes

Barrel Fever,’ David Sedaris

After Dark,’ Haruki Murakami

Tim The Tiny Horse At Large,’ Harry Hill

The Runaway Dinner,’ Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman

Mensagem,’ Fernando Pessoa x2

O Conto Do Vigário,’ (‘The Tale Of The Priest‘), Fernando Pessoa

Citações E Pensamentos De Sigmund Freud,’ (‘Quotations and Thoughts Of Sigmund Freud’), Sigmund Freud

O Zen De Steve Jobs,’ (The Zen Of Steve Jobs), Caleb Melby & Jess3

O Principe Pequeno,’ (‘The Little Prince), Antoine de St.Exupéry

.

Books Read, January 2015

The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner,’ Alan Stilltoe

The Rule Of Law,’ Tom Bingham

Tenth Of December,’ George Saunders  borges

The Original Of Laura,’ Vladimir Nabakov

The Sandmanking of dreams,’ Alisa Kwitney

Scoop: what your stuff says about you,’ Sam Gosling

High Windows,’ Philip Larkin

Tell Me The Truth About Love,’ W.H.Auden

‘Death Of A Naturalist,‘ Seamus Heaney

On The Map,’ Simon Garfield

Territorial Rights,’ Muriel Sparks

Bounce: how champions are made,‘ Matthew Syed

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour,’ Joshua Ferris

O Massacre Dos Judeus: lisboa, 19 de abril de 1506,’ (‘The Massacre Of The Jews), Susanna Bastos Mateus

The Fiddler In The Subway,’ Gene Weingarten borges

Mortal Coils,’Aldous Huxley

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.1′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.2′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.2)

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.4′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.4)

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.5′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.5)

The Fall,’ Albert Camus

O Conto Do Vigário,’ (‘The Tale Of The Priest‘), Fernando Pessoa

O Zen De Steve Jobs,’ (The Zen Of Steve Jobs), Caleb Melby & Jess3

Tenth-of-December Pastoralia51ouHPJ1k5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_0307389642 200px-Originaloflauraurl-4 url url-2 spark-1  ContodoVigario   url-3 url-1  41bTH4EOUvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ 41OjGXkRKkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ 4e09048c2afffe7f432c856804d6c21d image rule-law-tom-bingham-paperback-cover-art41XWJ1V1J7L41+DlMX1AZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_0ff184168627bd0fbc85840be2de76e1

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 7, 2015 in BOOKS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

48. ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow,’ Daniel Kahneman

48. ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow,’ Daniel Kahneman

48. ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow,’ Daniel Kahneman

Want to know how much I enjoyed this book, from Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman, described by TED as “the world’s most influential living psychologist”? They do say a picture paints a thousand words, so below is a snapshot of all of the post-it notes which made their way into my copy of Kahneman’s summary of his lifetime’s work, exploring how humans think, and why, as a result, we’re often not very good at it:

Books on how humans think have always been amongst my favourites, from Steven Pinker‘s all encompassing ‘How The Mind Works‘ to Nicholas Nassim Taleb‘s more specialist ‘The Black Swan, via anything featuring clever and revealing experiments on topics from lying, (reviewed here), to randomness, (reviewed here), and epitomised by the boom in Freakonomical/Malcolm Gladwellian popularity. Yet, again and again, one pair of names would always pop up in this literature: Kahneman and Tversky.

This Israeli pair of scientists are amongst the most quoted scientists in history, and one of the best things about their work is that it seems to have come about through two grown men simply having fun: sitting down regularly, discussing crazy ideas, and finding fun and interesting ways to test their theories, (which, more often than not, proved to be intuitively correct).

As the title suggests, their experiments proved that the human brain has two systems for processing information. One is an instinctive, ‘fast’ process which happens instinctively, (for example, whether you want to or not, even if you know the optical illusion, you cannot stop your brain from thinking that the equal length lines below are different lengths):

The other is a more deliberate thinking process which takes effort and focus, (and, indeed, physical energy, which leads to interesting consequences), which kicks into action when faced with anything from “What is 32×12” to how to complete a sudoku puzzle.

418 pages of small print have never felt so much fun: here are the highlights, although if you have a few days free, I recommend skipping what follows and reading the book yourself!

Firstly, whilst most of the pleasure I got from the book derived from the experiments and their often surprising and counter-intuitive results, it offers some important morals too. One of the major themes of the book is that you do not have to be a genius to improve your way of thinking:

“Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed…everyone has the option of slowing down to conduct an active search of memory for all possibly relevant facts…”

It was the experiments, however, which really made the book for me. As with so much of their work, the following experiment is not only genius, and fun, it also has serious consequences: who could have guessed there is a link between self-restraint and intelligence?

“In one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, Walter Mischel and his students exposed four-year-old children to a cruel dilemma. They were given a choice between a small reward (one Oreo), which they could have at any time, or a larger reward (two cookies) for which they had to wait 15 minutes under difficult conditions…the film that shows their behaviour during the waiting time always has the audience roaring with laughter. About half the children managed the feat of waiting…Ten or fifteen years later…the children who had shown more self-control as four-year-olds had substantially higher scores on tests of intelligence…”

On ‘priming,’ (a terrifying method in which our opinions can be controlled in the subtlest ways, a fact seemingly well understood by advertisers):

“,,,living in a culture of that surrounds us with reminders of money may shape our behaviour and our attitudes in ways that we do not know about and of which we may not be proud…”

On the power of blatant lies, (perhaps helping to explain the success of politicians such as, taken entirely at random, George W Bush):

“The psychologist Daniel Gilbert…developed a theory of believing unbelieving that he traced to the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Gilbert proposed that understanding a statement must begin with an attempt to believe it: you must first know what the idea would mean if it were true. Only then can you decide whether or not to unbelieve it…”

In one section on the importance of formulae, the following gem occurs, negating any complaints of science not being important to real life:

“In a memorable example, Dawes showed that marital stability is well predicted by a formula:

frequency of love making minus frequency of quarrles

You don’t want you result to be a negative number….”

At times, it seemed like every experiment in every chapter had spawned a recent best-seller, many of which I had read. The origins of ‘The Wisdom of Crowds‘ by James Surowiecki, which I read late last year, clearly had its roots in various experiments presented in a chapter on capitalism, which featured the following genius tip for making sure groups aren’t blinded by optimism when making important decisions: the premortem:

“The procedure is simple: when the organization has almost come to an important decision but has not formally committed itself, Klein proposed gathering for a brief session a group of individuals who are knowledgeable about the decisions. The premise of the session is a short speech: ‘Imagine that we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcomes was a disaster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster’…”

The chapter on ‘Bad Events’ explained a phenomenon which I had experienced when teaching in Japan. A lecture theatre could be full of 70 students enjoying a class, but I would always focus on the two looking like they weren’t having fun. Why?

“Some experimenters have reported that an angry face ‘pops out’ of a crowd of happy facecs, but a single happy face does not stand out in an angry crowd. The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news…”

In a further demonstration:

“The psychologist Paul Rozin, an expert on disgust, observed that a single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a single cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches…”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

There are several sections involving statistics, odds and the way playing with language alters our perceptions. One of the cleverest experiments involved the following scenario: give it a go!

“You have been exposed to a disease which if contracted leads to a quick and painless death within a week. The probability that you have the disease is 1/1,000. There is a vaccine that is effective only before any symptoms appear. What is the maximum you would be willing to pay for the vaccine?”

There are no tricks; just try it!

Go on.

I’ll wait.

According to Kanheman, most people would pay “…a significant but limited amount,” since the odds of having the disease is relatively small.

Now for Part II:

“Volunteers are needed for research on the above disease. All that is required is that you expose yourself to a 1/1,000 chance of contracting the disease. What is the minimum you would be asked to be paid in order to volunteer for this program? (You would not be allowed to purchase the vaccine).”

Again, what would you take to be a part of this experiment? Anywhere near the figure in the first question?

According to the scientists who ran the experiment, participants generally named a figure around 50 times higher for the second question than the first…even though, economically, they are more or less exactly the same. Our risk-aversion, and the fact that we feel guiltier for actions we have taken which result in negative consequences, leads to the discrepancy.

Another example of how we are fooled by numbers was the following:

“Adam switches from a gas-guzzler of 12mpg to a slightly less voracious guzzler that runs at 14mpg.

The environmentally virtuous Beth switches from a 30mpg car to one that runs at 40mpg.

Suppose both drivers travel equal distances over a year. Who will save more gas by switching?”

Had a guess? You probably, like any sensible, sane person presumed it was Beth. How can it not be? Well, when you use your ‘slow’ thinking, (probably including a pencil and paper, or calculator), and do the actual maths, that’s when.

“If the two car owners both drive 10,000 miles, Adam will reduce his consumption from a scandalous 833 gallons to a still shocking 714 gallons, for a saving of 119 gallons. Beth’s use of fuel will drop from 333 gallons to 250, saving only 83 gallons. The mpg frame is wrong, and it should be replaced by the gallons-per-mile frame…”

A fact which was spotted by the co-author of the excellent social policy book ‘Nudge,’ Cass Sunstein, who worked for President Obama as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and has led to this information for the first time being displayed on all new cars in the USA from 2013.

Are you happy? There are uncountable ‘Are you happy?’ experiments, and ‘Ways to improve your happiness’ self-help books, not to mention different international ‘happiness rankings‘: but defining happiness, it turns out, isn’t so simple. An experiment described earlier in the book had asked people to estimate how many dates they had been on recently, and their subsequent ratings of their own happiness had shown an uncanny correlation with this single factor. In the final chapter, ‘Thinking About Life,’ we are presented with a similar experiment:

“Norbert Schwarz and his colleagues invited subjects to the lab to complete a questionnaire on life satisfaction. Before they began the task, however, he asked them to photocopy a sheet of paper for him. Half the respondents found a dime on the copying machine, planter there by the experimenter. The minor lucky incident caused a marked improvement in subjects’ reported satisfaction with their life as a whole!”

How fickle, how difficult to define, how easy to please or displease are we fragile human beings. As Kahneman states towards the end of this chapter, in a section entitled ‘The Focusing Illusion’:

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.”

Finally, probably my favourite chapter concerned our attitudes to our belongings and situations, and how they can change. It also explained how I may well have been lying to myself over the years since finishing university.

It had previously been presumed that humans were rational, economic beings who made decisions solely based on the inherent value of the things they were offered. This, however, had long relied on an unfounded belief that things have innate value. A new theory, called ‘prospect theory,’ threw all of that business into doubt.

Taking two twins, Albert and Ben, Kahneman imagines them with an identical job: low paid and with little time off. They are offered an upgraded position offering either better pay, or more holiday time, and since they (in theory) are equally desirable, they toss a coin to see who gets which. After a while for them to get used to their jobs, they are offered the chance to switch. In purely theoretical terms, it shouldn’t matter whether they switch or not.

This is where things get fun. And important.

“The standard theory…assumes that preferences are stable over time. Positions A and B are equally attractive for both twins and they will need little or no incentive to switch. In sharp contrast, prospect theory asserts that both twins will definitely prefer to remain as they are. This preference for the status quo is a consequence of loss aversion…”

The logic? We attach more importance to things we possess, even for only a short time, than things which are theoretically of equal value: we are averse to losing what we already have. Thus, one twin would refuse to give up his precious free time, even if it is for an equivalent amount of cash moneys; and the other would find it difficult to lose his elevated wages, even if he were compensated with the equivalent amount of ‘vacation’ time.

“This example highlights two aspects of choice…First, tastes are not fixed; they vary with the reference point. Second, the disadvantages of a change loom larger than its advantages, inducing a bias that favors the status quo…”

What are the consequences in real life for all of this?

Ever since finishing university, seeing my friends take jobs as lawyers, accountants, and various other well-paying jobs of differing levels of boredom, I decided to go and have fun for ‘a few years,’ traveling, earning a subsistence wage at various jobs around the world, and having (far) more free time than wages. My theory was that, at any point, I could change course, get a well-paid job, (if I really wanted to), and trade in my nomadic lifestyle.

It turns out I may have been wrong.

And I’m fine with that!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 26, 2012 in BOOKS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,