…my candidate for the most deeply satisfying explanation of recent decades is the idea of bounded rationality…Herbert Simon put one stake in the ground through the study of information processing and AI, showing that both people and organizations follow principles of behavior such as "satisficing" that constrain them to decent but not the best decisions. The second stake was placed by Kahneman and Tversky, who showed the stunning ways in even experts are error-prone—with consequences for not only their own health and happiness but that of their societies broadly.
Together the view of human nature that evolved over the past four decades has systematically changed the explanation for who we are and why we do what we do. We are error-prone in the unique ways in which we are, the explanation goes, not because we have malign intent, but because of the evolutionary basis of our mental architecture, the manner in which we remember and learn information, the way in which we are affected by those around us and so on. The reason we are boundedly rational is because the information space in which we must do our work is large compared to the capacities we have, including severe limits on conscious awareness, the ability to be able to control behavior, and to act in line even with our own intentions.
The idea that bad outcomes result from limited minds that cannot store, compute and adapt to the demands of the environment is a radically different explanation of our capacities and thereby our nature. It's elegance and beauty comes from it placing the emphasis on the ordinary and the invisible rather than on specialness and malign motives. This seems not so dissimilar from another shift in explanation from god to natural section and it is likely to be equally resisted.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
I thought I would pass on clips from Mahzarin Banaji's response to the Edge.org annual question "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?":