Why Smart People Are Stupid

Some fascinating insights into stupidity courtesy of Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker:

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

For more than five decades, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this and analyzing our answers. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents—reason was our Promethean gift—Kahneman and his scientific partner, the late Amos Tversky, demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether…

[continues in the New Yorker]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

Latest posts by majestic (see all)

  • The only thing to get is money

    Ahh…science, you destroy preconceived notions…only to build new ones upon the ashes of the old. Leading to refinement, but maintaining the mystery and confusion at every step. Science: both liberating and humbling. 

    • Chewbacca

      Dumbass. Quit taking short cuts.

      • The only thing to get is money

        Why should I listen to a dumb furry ape dog who’s post is not even relevant to what I said? Shut up Chewwie. You don’t even have the brain power to take a short cut.

        • Bingo


          • Redacted


    • GoodDoktorBad

      Science is often like throwing a cloth over a fine sculpture to better see the detail….hmmmmm….

      • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

        thats actually a surprisingly good analogy. I wonder how far it goes. What if they throw the cloth onto the ocean. What? it sinks?… I don’t understand it, you know what, it must not exist.

      • Calypso_1

        Sometimes the sculpture is black marble in a pitch dark room and all you have is a white sheet and a black light.

        • GoodDoktorBad


  • Gennarosmith

    Because smart people have Overconfident and In overconfidence People have doing a wrong decision in the Overconfidence.

    • Redacted

      Confidence is key. I think its the Marines who say they would rather make the wrong decision than no decision.

      Of course, that applies only to combat where being indecisive wins you a posthumous purple heart.

    • GoodDoktorBad

      I get your meaning but the irony of your bad grammar and puncuation is a bit comical, all things considered…..

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    the smartest of us
    is not smarter than any animal
    that knows how to survive without a job, an income and an economy
    very few humans have reached that level of intelligence in the last 5000 years

    the “smartest” of us
    have found ways to bring the human race to the point of extinction
    by creating unnatural technological systems to rule over us
    the most stupid of us follow along

    as for the test
    you’d have to be an idiot
    not to know you can’t trust your minds reasoning ability
    or that reasoning and common sense
    have to be tempered with experiments and experience
    even the so-called smartest of us are far from that stage of evolution

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    Because they’re still people?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bobbie-Jean-Pentecost/100000391760333 Bobbie Jean Pentecost

    The article is interesting but I can already hear the idiots’ response: YAYE! Let’s mock smart people for not being goddamn perfect 24-fucking-7. It will make us feel better about our own stupidity. Gods know smart people have never contributed anything to modern society. Now let’s all go back to herping and derping. *Herp derp herp derp herp DERPITY herp derp herp HUURRRNNNGGG derp herp derp*

    Yeah, guess what, NEWSFLASH. Smart people make mistakes. SHOCKING!

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Certain perverts with high IQ’s get chubbies over the challenge of constructing daring intellectual theories to make fools of themselves.  Counter-proofs only heighten the thrill they get from doing something they know in their hearts is wrong.  They get to double plus up on the intellect and completely avoid ugly moral questions.  I call it the “frisson of the forbidden”.And let’s face it, there is no reward for being the most moral.

    • Calypso_1

      i’d love to see you expound on this in a blog post

    • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

      You don’t say…

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/RWWAEM343UIK2IBZB3OXQZTQXM SPET67

    Would you call a baby who falls down a lot while learning to walk stupid, or uncoordinated?  No, you’d just say that it’s learning.

    Same thing with smart, successful people.  They try things, they screw up.  They figure out where they went wrong.  Rinse and repeat until the desired outcome is achieved.  

    Yes, there will be times when you make mistakes, avoidable ones,sometimes.  Why? because some people learn better through experience than from abstract reasoning. Your Mom probably told you not to touch the hot stove.  But, the lesson probably didn’t sink in until you actually did it.  


  • Cpb285

    It’s called cognitive heuristics for a reason. People use those shortcuts because they are perfect for solving most day-to-day tasks.

  • crazyweisallcrzy

    how can you think we are rational? We watch movies for f-sake. If we was rational we’d not believe what we see on the screen. Just saying that our whole reality so clearly demonstrates a constant lack of rationalness.