Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Irrational man ...

Stuart Sutherland 1992 book "Irrationality" explores the vast areas of irrational thinking omnipresent in human judgments and decisions. Sutherland was professional psychologist, hence the book is not a set of novel-like digressions about human nature. It is scientifically grounded analysis of sources of our mistakes and misconceptions. For example, it explains how skin-deep obedience, false conformity, biased impressions or communal follies bring disaster to many organisation, from army units (he comes back to the Pearl Harbour attack) through government organisations to business organisations. Some of the examples he gives are just hilarious...

There is a lot about medicine and irrationality there, about false diagnosis that can lead to death and about modern superstitions that still pervade the popular medicine (like homeopathy).

The book is full of examples, explanations and recommendations - how to avoid the irrational thinking in our life. The true goal of the book is - of course - the promotion of true and well based rationality!

Every chapter of the books end with a "moral" - a digest of the chapter content in a form of few most important "sententia".

See some of these "morals":

  1. Never base a judgement or decision on a single case, no matter how striking.

  2. In forming an impression of a person (or object) try to break your judgement down into his (or its) separate qualities without letting any strikingly good or bad qualities influence your opinion about the remainder. This may seem cold, but it is important in situations, such as interviews or medical diagnoses based on a range of symptoms, where the judgement may seriously affect the person being judged.

  3. When exposed to connected material, suspend judgement until the end: try to give as much weight to the last item as the first.

  4. Try to avoid obtaining information that would bias you: for example, in judging whether an article or a book should be published, remain ignorant of the author’s name until you have formed your own opinion of the work.

Reading this book is a must for all decision-makers...

And, last but not least - it is also beautifully written - so you read it as a good novel :-)


  1. Looks like a book with a practical value,the kind you should read from time to time.

  2. You are just right - particularly if you are in decision making position in your life...

    It is also reflectional book - we tend to muse over man exceptional stupidity after reading it ...