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Even if we could rid ourselves of the biases and

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Even if we could rid ourselves of the biases and illusions identified inthis book — and Kahneman, citing his own lack of progress in overcomingthem, doubts that we can — it is by no means clear that this would make ourlives go better. And that raises a fundamental question: What is the point ofrationality? We are, after all, Darwinian survivors. Our everyday reasoningabilities have evolved to cope efficiently with a complex and dynamicenvironment. They are thus likely to be adaptive in this environment, even ifthey can be tripped up in the psychologist’s somewhat artificial experiments.Where do the norms of rationality come from, if they are not an idealization
°Kahneman never grapples philosophically with the nature of rationality.He does, however, supply a fascinating account of what might be taken to beits goal: happiness. What does it mean to be happy? When Kahneman firsttook up this question, in the mid 1990s, most happiness research relied onasking people how satisfied they were with their life on the whole. But suchretrospective assessments depend on memory, which is notoriouslyunreliable. What if, instead, a person’s actual experience of pleasure or paincould be sampled from moment to moment, and then summed up over time?Kahneman calls this “experienced” well-being, as opposed to the“remembered” well-being that researchers had relied upon. And he foundthat these two measures of happiness diverge in surprising ways. Whatmakes the “experiencing self” happy is not the same as what makes the“remembering self” happy. In particular, the remembering self does not careabout duration — how long a pleasant or unpleasant experience lasts.Rather, it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak level of pain orpleasure in the course of the experience, and by the way the experienceends.°These two quirks of remembered happiness — “duration neglect” andthe “peak-end rule” — were strikingly illustrated in one of Kahneman’s moreharrowing experiments. Two groups of patients were to undergo painfulcolonoscopies. The patients in Group A got the normal procedure. So did thepatients in Group B, except — without their being told — a few extra minutesof mild discomfort were added after the end of the examination. Which groupsuffered more? Well, Group B endured all the pain that Group A did, and thensome. But since the prolonging of Group B’s colonoscopies meant that theprocedure ended less painfully, the patients in this group retrospectivelyminded it less. (In an earlier research paper though not in this book,Kahneman suggested that the extra discomfort Group B was subjected to inthe experiment might be ethically justified if it increased their willingness tocome back for a follow-up!)
°

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Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow,

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