• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who compared human mind to newsroom is dead

Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist who described how the human brain works, likening it to a newsroom, died March 27 at age 90.

His death was reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday, citing his stepdaughter Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor for the New Yorker. No further details of how and where he died was given.

The bestselling author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in an interview with Morgan Housel in 2013 said there are two systems in humans – System 1 and 2 – which control thought systems, values and beliefs.

While the first system gives an immediate answer to a thought, the other system makes an effortful processing to give a deeper understanding of the situation.

He said: “If I say, “2 plus 2,” a number came to your mind. That’s System 1. If I say, “The relationship between China and Japan,” now it’s not one word that came to your mind, but a whole set of words, a whole set of ideas. I mentioned that, you were thinking islands, you were thinking war, you were thinking navies. That’s System 2.”

He noted that the “Systems” – the human mind – is akin to a newsroom where the reporter, though does the whole work of writing stories, the editor painstakingly sees to it that the work gets to the print or not, and gets blame if things went South.

“That image – it’s not in the book, but I now wish it had been — I compare it to a newspaper room. You have the reporters and they are writing stories. They’re interpreting the world.

“Then you have an editor. In my story, the editor is sort of lazy, and is badly overworked. What the editor does mostly is endorse the stories and send them to the printer. Now, occasionally the editor will stop a story, think more slowly, assign it to another reporter, or altogether stop it, like not telling somebody to go to hell.

“If you look at where the product is, the newspaper is really written by the reporters. It’s not that the editor has no role. It’s not that… the editor is a very important figure, but the newspaper was basically produced by the reporters. That’s one theme of the book,” the author said.

Kahneman was notable for his strong assertions about rationality and its relation to human choices, debunking the longstanding notion by Adam Smith who considered man to be a rational being who acts out of self-interest.

For the behavioural economist, people rely on intellectual shortcuts that often lead to wrongheaded decisions that go against their own best interest.

His research work which made him the Nobel Prize winner in Behavioural Economist in 2002 demonstrated the extent to which people abandon logic and leap to conclusions.

Kahneman was affiliated with Princeton University when he shared the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences “for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.”

His co-recipient, Vernon L. Smith, then of George Mason University in Virginia, pioneered the use of laboratory experiments in economics.

Kahneman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in 2013. An inveterate pessimist, he said he and his wife had not expected the Nobel, despite a raft of honors received over the years.

In his 2011 popular book, Kahneman wrote about the stark contrast between the real world and what operates in the humans’ head.

He said: “The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.

“An inability to be guided by a “healthy fear” of bad consequences is a disastrous flaw.”

Kahneman has been described as one who “plumbed the psychology of economics” by New York Times while Bloomberg said he is the “psychologist who upended economics”.

Early life of Daniel Kahneman
Born in Tel Aviv on March 5, 1934 while his mother was visiting relatives in what was then the British mandate of Palestine, young Kahneman was born into a humble family. The Kahnemans made their home in France, and young Daniel was raised in Paris, where his mother was a homemaker and his father was the chief of research for a cosmetics firm.

Kahneman’s educational trajectory
At 15, young Kahneman took a vocational test that said he had the makings of a psychologist. He graduated from Hebrew University in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and mathematics. He fulfilled part of his military service requirement by devising character assessment tests for recruits.

In 1961, Kahneman received a doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and returned to Hebrew University as a lecturer. There he met Tversky, who was gaining a reputation as one of the most brilliant psychologists of his generation.

Kahneman’s marriage life with Irah and Anne
Kahneman’s first marriage, to Irah Kahn, ended in divorce. In 1978, he wed Anne Treisman, a cognitive psychologist who studied mechanisms of perception and attention. They taught at the University of British Columbia and Berkeley before joining Princeton in 1993.

Meanwhile, Tversky took a position at Stanford University. The physical separation made cooperation with Kahneman difficult, if not impossible, and the friendship soured.

By the late 1980s, Kahneman had come to believe that Tversky did not sufficiently value his contributions to their work, and Tversky had his own complaints about Dr. Kahneman. “I sort of divorced him,” Kahneman later said. The two revived their friendship in the months before Tversky died of melanoma in 1996.

Treisman died in 2018, making Kahneman later live with Barbara Tversky, the widow of his longtime collaborator.

Kahneman is survived by Tversky, his partner of four years, two children from his first marriage, Michael Kahneman and Lenore Shoham; four stepchildren, Jessica, Daniel, Stephen and Deborah Treisman; and seven grandchildren.