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Great Minds – Daniel Kahneman

By Timothy Cocks Great minds 25 Feb 2014

Perhaps one of the most widely known and influential living psychologists, Kahneman’s work spans decades and diverse fields.

If his Wikipedia page is to be believed, Kahneman’s interest in psychology started young:

“It must have been late 1941 or early 1942. Jews were required to wear the Star of David and to obey a 6 p.m. curfew. I had gone to play with a Christian friend and had stayed too late. I turned my brown sweater inside out to walk the few blocks home. As I was walking down an empty street, I saw a German soldier approaching. He was wearing the black uniform that I had been told to fear more than others – the one worn by specially recruited SS soldiers. As I came closer to him, trying to walk fast, I noticed that he was looking at me intently. Then he beckoned me over, picked me up, and hugged me. I was terrified that he would notice the star inside my sweater. He was speaking to me with great emotion, in German. When he put me down, he opened his wallet, showed me a picture of a boy, and gave me some money. I went home more certain than ever that my mother was right: people were endlessly complicated and interesting. (Kahneman, 2003, p. 417)”

Without ever taking an Economics course he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and he is often listed as one of the world’s pre-eminent thinkers.

A recent piece in the Guardian online asked some not-too-shabby-minds-themselves about Kahneman. Steven Pinker (not to shabby) explained:

“I’ve called Daniel Kahneman the world’s most influential living psychologist and I believe that is true… His central message could not be more important, namely, that human reason left to its own devices is apt to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors, so if we want to make better decisions in our personal lives and as a society, we ought to be aware of these biases and seek workarounds. That’s a powerful and important discovery.

My most recent bookThe Better Angels of Our Nature, is about the historic decline of violence, a fact that I argue is underappreciated precisely because the human mind works the way Kahneman says it works, namely, that our sense of risk and danger is influenced by salient events that are available from memory. Our minds do not naturally process statistics on incidents of violence, and so Kahneman helps explain why my claim is news or why it’s hard for people to believe.

When I first presented the material that became my book The Blank Slate, he gave me a comment that really sat with me: he noted that the idea of human nature with inherent flaws was consistent with a tragic view of the human condition and it’s a part of being human that we have to live with that tragedy. It was a profound philosophical observation…

We have our differences. I think he is a pessimist, whereas I am an optimist. I do think he’s right that human nature saddles us with some unfortunate limitations, but I also think – and actually he himself shows in the “slow thinking” part of his book – that we have the means to overcome some of our limitations, through education, through institutions, through enlightenment.” (Emphasis added)

Could be some interesting thoughts for those interested in pain in Kahneman’s work it seems.

Finally, in his own words:

[ted id=779]

-Tim Cocks

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  1. Thanks Tim.

    Kahneman is re-stating what the ‘Greats’ have said for thousands of years. Any decent philosophy or religion will make memory and attention central themes (not love nor light nor Gods or Goddesses). It’s important to say that the problem of pain and suffering has already been solved by many in their own experience, not just in theory. And they have written about the process. We don’t need to tread the same old path that others have done so long ago, nor try to reinvent the wheel. It’s all out there – just requires continuous application of hard work.

    Here’s a bit of dialogue from I Am That.

    M: Your natural state, in which nothing exists, cannot be a cause of becoming; the causes are hidden in the great and mysterious power of MEMORY. But your true home is in nothingness, in emptiness of all content.

    Q: Emptiness and nothingness — how dreadful!

    M: You face it most cheerfully, when you go to sleep! Find out for yourself the state of wakeful sleep and you will find it quite in harmony with your real nature.



  2. I meant to add something. In deep sleep, the self is non-existent. And since there’s no self to do the experiencing (only a body and a remnant of mind), both pain and suffering are gone in that moment. Many chronic pain sufferers report that the best treatment for their symptoms is deep sleep (NREM). But of course many of them also get stuck with lengthy REM periods and rarely get much deep sleep. Home treatment should start with good sleep, imo, then meditation or something similar during the day.

    (would be handy if comments could be edited by users – possible?).

  3. We all have our dark side as part of our wholeness. It’s our inherent conscience that gives us a CHOICE to suppress it, if we choose and strive towards being a decent human being. The questions are, where does this conscience and consciousness stem from and, is the “Self” really absent in deep sleep or, are we just taking a break from our embodiment. …….This takes us back to the question of what ever danger registering system we might have it rests with the interpretation of the incoming intelligence as to whether it justifies the experience of pain…… if we are claiming to be Neuromusculoskeletal practitioners we have to live with the fact that it all begins above C1 and is more than the “Issues in the Tissues” remembering that the brain is also a tissue…..

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