Are Our Decisions Ours?

A thoughtful reader of this blog recently brought today’s fantastic TED Talk to my attention. I’m so glad he did!

Classical economics rests on the central assumption that we are rational actors who make logical decisions. In this Talk, “Are we in control of our own decisions?,” behavioral economist Dan Ariely debunks that myth. With colorful and surprising examples from his research and a lively, humorous delivery, Ariely shows us that we’re not as rational as we think. Indeed, often we’re not even in control; in unexpected and unsatisfying ways, context and circumstance can powerfully influence the decisions we make, large and small, without our realizing it.

There are parallels to the Eyes Wide Open themes in my TED Talk and my book. Ariely leaves us with an optimistic message. We shape our environments to accommodate our physical limitations, he explains. If we can study and understand the limits of our rationality, he argues, we can do much the same for the cognitive limitations that influence our decisions. That is, with awareness we can take control of the reality underlying those decisions. Amen.

My favorite part: Ariely uses optical illusions as a metaphor for our irrational decisions. If sight, which is so central to our lives, is fallible in such stunning and predictable ways, he asserts, we should expect the same of all sorts of other mental functions. That is, we should expect that our minds will get things wrong while so convincingly seeming right. Double amen.

What do you think? What’s your favorite TED Talk? Join the discussion and let me know. I want to hear from you!

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-Isaac Lidsky


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