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Holiday Reading: Thinking fast and slow

CJ Westerberg, December 20, 2011 12:32 AM


Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable,
to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own. 
Questioning what we believe and
want is difficult at the best of times,
and especially difficult when we most need to do it,
but we can benefit from the informed opinions of others . . .

. . .
the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. 
-Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

The year of holding on (to what - we're not sure)

by C.J. Westerberg

I'm a voracious reader and get asked often about what I'm "into" these days, since those who know me also know I may go into a deep dive on a single area of interest for awhile until I come up for air.

Right now, my topic of hyper-focus is about thinking.  I know, that sounds pointy-head-ish, yet while our culture seems locked in this mode of "getting through it," whether it be students getting through the school day;  parents getting their kids through the system;  teachers getting through their own day, and/or getting students through whatever their particular school system requires; kids growing up in poverty trying to get through the day in tact;  adults working to make ends meet . . . have we become a nation of sloggers?

Sloggers are not exactly "mindful" of nuances or daily events and activities, plodding through reality, using cheap entertainment to distract, when finding certain "givens" don't exactly work out quite like they should.  You can see this in the eyes of many students who even do well on tests, with their "I did it - whoop dee do dah day" bittersweet celebrations.  Argh.  Actually, it's the students who can see the difference between "school" and "learning," who may have the best trajectory for life.  Or, those lucky enough to have an amazing learning experience throughout their schooling life - which would be rare, indeed. Credit: Slate - Cartoonist Bennett

When we push the pause button on our plow-through-it-mode, we have the potential to just stop and think.  We know it's much easier to watch another you-tube, scan another blog post, watch another yelling pundit who supports our position, or just comment randomly about someone else's whatever.   

Okay, so enough of the sturm und drang - what has this to do with my holiday reading list as promised by the headline?  Here is my list:

No surprise there is the Steve Jobs bio, and I'll add the Diane Keaton one, since I just received it with a special note from a friend.  Jobs and Keaton are both accomplished, creative, and march to a different beat sort of people.  I'm also hoping to check out the new Catherine the Great biography by Massie.   Think it may be an interesting out-loud read with my teen daughter - depending on how it reads and goes - parents of teens know what I mean.

One book I'm especially excited to tackle is Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner, which I originally thought may be too dense but . . .  not so, from my initial explorations.  It's very readable.  Chapters titled such as, "Causes Trump Statistics" will grab anyone who is interested in data, or "The Illusion of Understanding" will humble the pointiest of heads.

The "characters of the story" are the fast brain and the slow brain.  I really am lately
obsessed with this conversation and think it is such an important one because it directly relates to how technology and our global modern culture affect student engagement, learning and motivation.
Thumbnail image for thinking-fast-and-slow.jpg  

Kahneman and this book have received so many major accolades ("most important psychologist alive today" - Pinker;  "a landmark book in social thought" - Taleb;  "one of the most original and interesting thinkers of our time" - Levitt) that I thought the "brilliance" would have me falling asleep in deep thought after two paragraphs.  Instead, while not exactly breezy reading, it reminds me somewhat of a Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) essay - engaging to a curious, interested layperson, even after a glass of holiday wine. So far, so good. I may report and riff more about it after the holiday. 

Here's an excerpt from the Introduction:

Every author, I suppose, has in mind a setting in which readers of his or her work could benefit from having read it.  Mine is the proverbial office water-cooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged.  I hope to enrich the vocabulary that people use when they talk about the judgments and choices of others, the company's new policies, or a colleague's investment decisions.  Why be concerned with gossip?  Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own.  Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it, but we can benefit from the informed opinions of others. 

Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. 
The expectation of intelligent gossip is a powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year resolutions to improve one's decision making at work and at home.

The other book I will be reading will be Cathy Davidson's "Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn."  I've not cracked open a page yet and maybe my holiday reading will extend to the the next holiday - - -    

And, if you are looking for a great last minute gift for anyone, try a subscription to National Geographic.   I am continually awed by the quality of this organization and publication.  The Grand Prize winner of the National Geographic Photo Contest (photo above) is symbolic of our collective feeling of holding on through this wild storm.

Thoughtful reading for the New Year!


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