The painting is beautiful, and the smile mysterious, because we are told it is so
July 12, 2010 4 Comments
I’ve read many books like Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, about how people are consistently irrational in specific ways. It’s my favorite topic in psychology. I wonder what long-term effect this reading has. Does being aware of your own irrational tendencies help you to counteract those tendencies, or are they like optical illusions: We see them even when we know that we shouldn’t?
I suspect the first. This knowledge influences me all the time. It’s why I try to read books and watch movies without any foreknowledge, (to prevent expectations from tainting the experience), why I don’t pretend I can tell an expensive wine from a cheap wine, and why I try to decouple my political principles from factual claims. (Gender discrimination is not wrong because it, say, reduces economic growth. Maybe it’s good for the economy. It would still be wrong.)
This is one reason why I think behavioral economics has its limits. Another is methodology: Almost all these experiments use students as subjects. What happens when they grow old and gain experience? Do they learn that FREE isn’t magical? Do they learn tricks to stop overvaluing short-term benefits? Probably, even if they never read this book.
What researchers like Ariely has done is not to introduce brand new ideas. What they’ve done is replace the first step towards wisdom with science. That’s great, it makes the step easier to make, but it doesn’t help you with the next step. At some point science must give way to intuition.