All about Stories

Stumbled upon this quote on the Scientific American's Oberservations blog (Jan. 8, 2012):

“There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book… [they are] all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse. So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias.

Often, people buy them as a kind of talisman, like 'I bought this book. I won't be Predictably Irrational.' It's like people want to hear the worst, so psychologically, they can prepare for it or defend against it. It's why there's such a market for pessimism. But to think that buying the book gets you somewhere, that's maybe the bigger fallacy. It's just like the evidence that shows the most dangerous people are those that have been taught some financial literacy. They're the ones who go out and make the worst mistakes. It's the people that realize, 'I don't know anything at all,' that end up doing pretty well.

...So if you think which set of stories you end up hearing, you end up hearing the glamour stories, the seductive stories, and again I'm telling you, don't trust them. They're people using your love of stories to manipulate you. Pull back and say, 'What are the messages, and what are the stories that no one has an incentive to tell?' and start telling yourself those, and see if any of your decisions change. That's one simple way -- you can never get out of the pattern of thinking in terms of stories, but you can improve the extent to which you think in stories and make some better decisions.”

~ Tyler Cowen, the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and co-author of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution

See also: You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself