So this senior professor fell ill and, without any warning, slipped into a coma.
Days, or perhaps even weeks passed by, and not a peep was heard from him, lying on a hospital bed, kept alive by a machine.
During his time of inactivity, some of his friends have expressed resignation, thinking about the last time they shared happy moments together, remembering several anecdotes that will be embellished upon every retelling.
However, recounting memories about the professor—however short and moving—may have to wait.
One day, not too long ago, the professor woke up, weaker physically but mentally and intellectually agile as before. Moreover, according to friends who recently visited, it appeared that another aspect of the professor’s brain was activated, perhaps by his prolonged confinement.
Ever since he got out of the coma, the professor said that he has been seeing and hearing things—the spirit of a person walking along the hallway or the sound of someone weeping in the dark, subterranean corners of the facility where he is currently checked in.
The professor was earnest when he narrated these supposedly supernatural encounters, surprising his friends.
His friends know him to be an atheist who also has little regard for events and/or entities in realms outside the physical world.
What explains the professor’s revelations?
No one knows.
But this story only underscored my renewed interest in—for the lack of a better word, probably because I do so little of it—thinking.
Jut a few weeks ago, I finished reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book I chose to pick up after I saw a video of him interviewing my current favorite author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, a book I’ve read three times for the past four years. (I’ve also read Antifragility and Fooled by Randomness).
Besides echoing what the Black Swan has asserted—that it is luck, not primarily skills or achievements, that have led us to enjoy* our lot in our lives (status, wealth, happiness), Thinking, Fast and Slow said that “we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”
“Professionals’ intuitions do not all arise from true expertise,” the book said in its introduction, referring to a chief investment officer’s decision to buy Ford Co. stocks.
“I found it remarkable that he had apparently not considered the one question that an economist would call relevant: Is Ford stock currently underpriced? Instead, he had listened to his intuition; he liked cars, he liked the company, and he liked the idea of owning its stock…The question that the executive faced (should I invest in Ford stock?) was difficult, but the answer to an easier and related question (do I like Ford cars?) came readily to his mind and determined his choice. This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”
So why should you read this book?
That’s a question so difficult I need to answer that with another blog entry.