Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Jumping to (Erroneous) Conclusions"

I’ve been reading this book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, by Daniel Kahneman for the past two months. The going has been glacially slow. The book is 418 pages long, and I am currently on page 154.

After two months.

The reason my progress is so sluggish is that I can only read a few pages at a time, because the book is constantly getting me thinking. And when I start thinking, I stop reading.

“I’m tired of thinking.”

“Then why don’t you go back to reading?”

“No, it’ll only get me thinking again.”

The central thesis of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” – a deeper and more scientific investigation of the ground covered in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” – is that, though there are times when our self-preservational programming requires us to make instant decisions – “There’s a lion! Run!” – there are occasions when our reflexive responses point us in an erroneous direction.

I recommend “Thinking, Fast and Slow highly. It is not for airplane travelers, trolling for a “quick read.” Nor is it for people looking for a book to adapt into a movie. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did. (“Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex…”, seemingly unpromising, became one of Woody Allen’s funniest movies.)

Based on my current immersion into this thought-provoking tome, I offer up the following:
Over the past year or so, every Wednesday morning, for exercise as well as coffee, it has become my regular habit (Kidnappers: Please ignore.) to walk about a mile and a half (total, not each way; I am no exercise fanatic) to a coffee emporium called Groundworks. As I did earlier today.

The walk is hardly directionally challenging. I head South down Fourth Street – the street I live on – and turn left, walking Eastward five or six blocks to Groundworks, which is situated on the North side of Rose Avenue.

This morning, heading Eastward on Rose, I arrive at a cross street called Dimmick Avenue (Who names streets, anyway? “It’s ‘Dimmick.’ It looks like a dimmick. It’s ‘Dimmick.’”) I am about to step into the intersection, when a car, heading Westbound on Rose, turns directly in front of me, the driver, ostensibly planning to proceed Northbound on Dimmick.

It turns out, this is not the case. Instead, the driver executes a U-turn at the corner of Dimmick, turning back onto Rose, surprising the pedestrian, Earl, who has anticipatorily stepped into the intersection, coming uncomfortably close to being run down.

After swiftly backtracking onto the sidewalk, I recall myself saying, “That was close!” to nobody in particular, after which I continue, with a slightly elevated heartbeat, on to Groundworks.
I arrive at Groundworks and I purchase my coffee, a small, “Venice Blend”, though my selection has nothing to do with the story. (I always get “Venice Blend.”) I then exit Groundworks, and commence on my journey back home.

Proceeding Westbound along Rose, I arrive, once again, at Dimmick Avenue. The following is emmis. The truth. I am not embellishing for effect.

I am about to step into the intersection, when a car turns right onto Dimmick, and executes a U-turn directly in front of me! Before proceeding back onto Rose.

My immediate response to this turn of events is not,

“What a coincidence.”


“This must be the most dangerous intersection in the world!”
My instinctive bordering on hysterical reaction overlooks the fact that, though I’ve been making this walk for over a year – meaning I have crossed Dimmick in both directions over a hundred times – nothing of this nature, or even close to it, has ever happened before.
Remembering this, my original response, “This must be the most dangerous intersection in the world!” is replaced by another response:

“I think somebody is trying to kill me.”

My erroneous snap judgment supplanted by an assessment of my position of importance in the universe. A reaction that is also – though my ego resists this conclusion – erroneous.
Most likely.

Comedy has often employed the concept of erroneous snap judgments to hilarious effect. In The Jerk, when a random slayer blasts away at Steve Martin’s “Innocent”, Navin R. Johnson, piercing some nearby oil cans, the goofy Johnson, a gas station attendant, instinctively intuits,
“He hates these cans!”


“Stay away from the cans!”

Another example:

In Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian, when Brian, the unwilling Messiah, races away from a mob of his “followers”, he accidentally loses one of his sandals. Mistaking accident for religious precept, Brian’s fervent disciples immediately abandon one of their sandals, and continue their pursuit.
These laugh-inducing responses exemplify faulty reasoning, the perpetrators having molded a “sampling of one” into a hard and fast rule. Lesson to be learned: Before drawing your conclusion, pay careful heed to the size of the sample.

My recent experience suggests, however, that, when a car cuts in front of you at the same intersection twice in less than ten minutes, that lesson flies immediately out the window.
I realize that this story too is merely a single sampling of my behavior. But I have the feeling that I’ve leapt to equally erroneous conclusions in other, considerably more serious, arenas.

This realization has gotten me thinking.

Slow, rather than fast.


Lutren Bureful said...

Suppose that street is named Dimmick in memory of the first pedestrian to be run over at that location...Rose Dimmick?

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; those are odd first thoughts. I'd be thinking that I need to pay more attention because there are bad drivers about this Wednesday.


p.s. do you ever go to the Groundwork on Main instead of Rose (totally not stalking you for future kidnapping)? That is, do you mix up your exercising?

Rebecca said...

You told people on the Internet where you live?!?? Don't DO that!! I am cringing just thinking about it. Does your wife know you did that? There are weirdos out there, for crying out loud.

Now you have to move.