Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Kahneman’


“Disbelieving is hard work”

January 19, 2012

Daniel Kahneman

Theory-induced blindness and Vermeer’s and Rahmstorf’s “Global sea level linked to global temperature.”

In one of the many interesting chapters of  Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University Emeritus Professor of Psychology and winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics discussed Daniel Bernoulli’s 250-year-old mathematical theory of risk aversion. 

Kahneman points out that “Bernoulli’s essay is a marvel of concise brilliance…

Most impressive, his analysis… has stood the test of time: it is still current in economic analysis almost 300 years later.  The longevity of the theory is all the more remarkable because it is seriously flawed.  The errors of a theory are rarely found in what it asserts explicitly; they hide in what it ignores or tacitly assumes”

Kahneman then goes on to demolish of Bernoulli’s theory.  This demolition is simple and incontrovertible, takes about one page, and is easily understood by anybody of average intelligence. Kahneman says this about the demolition…

“All this is rather obvious, isn’t it?  One could easily imagine Bernoulli himself constructing similar examples and developing a more complex theory to accommodate them; for some reason, he did not.  One could imagine colleagues of his time disagreeing with him, or later scholars objecting as they read his essay; for some reason, they did not either.

The mystery is how a conception … that is vulnerable to such obvious counterexamples survived for so long.  I can explain it only by a weakness of the scholarly mind that I have often observed in myself.  I call it theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws.  If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the model, you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you are somehow missing.  You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the community of experts who have accepted it.  Many scholars have surely thought at one time or another of stories such as [the examples that Kahneman gives] and casually noted that these stories did not jibe…But they did not pursue the idea to the point of saying ‘this theory is seriously wrong because it ignores the fact[s]’…As the psychologist Daniel Gilbert observed, disbelieving is hard work…”

What does all this have to do with ClimateSanity?  Simple – it sounds like Vermeer’s and Rahmstorf’s model linking global sea level to global temperature (“Global sea level linked to global temperature,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, December 22, 2009 vol. 106 no. 51 21527-21532 ).  It has been incontrovertibly demolished, but the believer’s just can’t let it go.  They must suffer theory-induced blindness.  They seem to have endless capacity to simply overlook the plethora of bizarre, improbable or impossible consequences of the Vermeer and Rahmstorf  model.