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How We Know What isn't So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life Paperback – 26 Apr 1993


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: The Free Press; Reprint edition (26 April 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029117062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029117064
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 1.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 130,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 68 people found the following review helpful By tomsk77 on 20 Jun 2007
Format: Paperback
I've been bumbling around in the area of behavioural economics/finance for a bit as it has some bearing on my day job. As a result I have developed a geeky interest in the area of mistakes in reasoning, biases etc. The book is a really good introduction to the area and very clearly-written.

It basically gives you a much better insight into some of the things you have probably already noticed (for example, people only seem to notice/value information that confirms what they already think). Aside from the fact that it's a genuinely fascinating area, you might also glean some information that actually helps you in the real world. I was struck by the point that partners tend to notice when their other half does (or doesn't do) something, that causes them pain, but not when the reverse. Hence I will notice if the Mrs doesn't stack the dishwasher, because it annoys me, but won't register when she does do it, so I will tend to take from this that she "never" stacks the dishwasher.

Usefully it also takes the insights from wonky reasoning and applies them to "questionable" beliefs - ESP, 'alternative medicine' etc. And you might learn a bit more about how to tell a good story!

Definitely worth a read. The other book recommended alongside this - Inevitable Illusions - is less good, but also worth a look. It gets into the interesting area of probability (and how bad we are at estimating and understanding it).
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73 of 76 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Mar 2001
Format: Paperback
I can scarcely recommend this book highly enough to anyone interest in widespread errors of reasoning. Working in the same branch of social science as Thaler, Tversky and Kahneman, the author manages to explain very clearly how we fall into reasoning traps, probably because of the environment in which our brains evolved.
Although Gilovich's case studies are interesting (belief in ESP, and belief in extreme forms of "alternative" medicine), it's the theoretic part of the book which really stands out as being of benefit to the reader. Anyone who reads a newspaper, watches the television news, votes or invests in the financial markets ought to take the time to read this book.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Sphex on 16 Oct 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his introduction to this classic work on the fallibility of human reason in everyday life, Thomas Gilovich asks, "Why worry about erroneous beliefs?" It's tempting not to - after all, aren't we supposed to tolerate another person's beliefs, however wacky, and respect them too? Where's the harm in "a little superstition" or in someone visiting Lourdes in the hope of a miracle? Gilovich begins with some striking examples of harm being caused in the natural world: black rhinos, green-haired turtles and black bears have all been hunted to near extinction as a result of "mistaken beliefs about aphrodisiacs and cancer cures". If you are now congratulating yourself that you would never fall for the idea that a bear's gall bladder could cure your indigestion, Gilovich has plenty more cognitive biases for you to choose from. No matter how sophisticated we think we are, we're all suckers for some kind of wishful thinking.

Part I of the book opens with an important claim. "Human nature abhors a lack of predictability and the absence of meaning." We tend to see order in the "the often messy data of the real world" where there is none. Part II examines why we might want to hold questionable beliefs, and the role society plays in supporting or promoting those beliefs. Part III looks at several areas in which erroneous beliefs flourish, including the fertile ground of alternative medicine. Finally, in case you were beginning to lose all hope in humanity, Part IV shows "how we might improve the way we evaluate the evidence of everyday life".

Evidence of whatever provenance is important for most people, but one of the major themes of the book - indeed of this whole field of research - is to show how evidence cannot always be neatly bagged and labelled like an exhibit in a court case.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Oct 2003
Format: Paperback
In an age where science affects almost every aspect of modern life it is surprising that the number of people who believe "weird things" appears to be on the increase.
This book is an excellent guide on how to critically think about everything that you see and hear in your life. I found the authors section on confirmation bias very useful, as it shows how people almost always approach a subject from a biased view and try to GATHER information to SUPPORT that view without even realising they are being biased.
This book is very important for a contemporary culture that has many influential people, of all age ranges, and all levels of intelligence trying to make people believe the most mindboggling nonsense imaginable.
If you here a theory, it doesn't matter who says it, use your own intelligence to critically analyse it. And remember that many people, refuse to believe theories that are quite sound and by trying to sway public opinion, they attack the person saying the theory rather than looking at what they are saying; this is also known as a smear campaign.
This book is a great start for anyone looking for TRUTH in their life rather than clinging onto any belief like a comfort blanket.
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