Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 30 - Duncan Watts

I would love to listen to a debate someday between Duncan Watts and Malcolm Gladwell. Because, in his BIF-7 story, Duncan came across very much as an anti-Gladwell: precise, deliberate, and respectful of the difficulties and complexities involved with attempts to influence and predict behavior.

During his BIF-7 talk, Duncan talked about the problem of obviousness and common sense -- basically, that "the way we make sense of the world can actually prevent us from understanding it." This is also the hypothesis Duncan delineates in his new book, Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer.

As Duncan elaborated, we are susceptible to errors of reasoning when we rely on common sense:
  • When we think about why people do what they do, we place too much emphasis on incentives, motivations, and beliefs, and not enough on the thousands of other influencing factors
  • Groups are extremely complicated to predict -- we erroneously apply the logic of "individual" action to groups
  • We learn much less from history than we think and are prone to make the same mistakes over and over
The way forward, Duncan intimated at BIF and flushed out in Everything Is Obvious, is less reliance on common sense and more on psychohistory-like computational social science.
    Additional information:

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    This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

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