“The Undoing Project” Quotes

I recently read “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like the quotes, buy the book here.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.” -Voltaire

“Daryl Morey suggested a new definition of the nerd: a person who knows his own mind well enough to mistrust it.” (31)

“Danny said, “I’ve always felt ideas were a dime a dozen. If you had one that didn’t work out, you should not fight too hard to save it, just go find another.”” (73)

“Later when he was a university professor, Danny would tell students, “When someone says something, don’t ask yourself if it is true. Ask what it might be true of.” That was his intellectual instinct, his natural first step to the mental hoop: to take whatever someone had just said to him and try not to tear it down but to make sense of it.” (82)

“At some point it didn’t matter: He compelled himself to be brave until bravery became a habit.” (94)

“Amos liked to say that stinginess was contagious and so was generosity, and since behaving generously made you happier than behaving stingily, you should avoid stingy people and spend your time only with generous ones.” (109)

“A banana and an apple seem more similar than they otherwise would because we’ve agreed to call them both fruit. Things are grouped together for a reason, but, once they are grouped, their grouping causes them to seem more like each other than they otherwise would. That is, the mere act of classification reinforces stereotypes. If you want to weaken some stereotype, eliminate the classification.” (115)

“The only way to understand a mechanism such as the eye, Danny thought, was studying the mistakes that it made. Error wasn’t merely instructive; it was the key that might unlock the deep nature of the mechanism. “How do you understand memory?” he asked. “You don’t study memory. You study forgetting.”” (129)

“Danny explained, “Reforms always create winners and losers, and the losers will always fight harder than the winners.” How did you get the losers to accept change? The prevailing strategy on the Israeli farms – which wasn’t working very well – was to bully or argue with the people who needed to change. The psychologist Kurt Lewin had suggested persuasively that, rather than selling people on some change, you were better off identifying the reasons for their resistance, and addressing those. Imagine a plank held in place by a spring on either side of it, Danny told the students. How do you move it? Well, you can increase the force on one side of the plank. Or you can reduce the force on the other side. “In one case the overall tension is reduced,” he said, “and in the other it is increased.” And that was a sort of proof that there was an advantage in reducing the tensions. “It’s a key idea,” said Danny. “Making it easy to change.”” (138-39)

“Someone once said that education was knowing what to do when you don’t know.” (140)

“This is what happens when people become attached to a theory. They fit the evidence to the theory rather than the theory to the evidence. They cease to see what’s right under their nose.” (149)

“Amos liked to say, “When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.” (155)

“People’s “intuitive expectations are governed by a consistent misperception of the world,” Danny and Amos had written in their final paragraph.” (164)

“Amos had a gift for avoiding what he called “overcomplicated” people.” (179)

“Work, for Amos, had always been play: If it wasn’t fun, he simply didn’t see the point in doing it.” (181)

“He refused to start a paper until he had decided what it would be called. He believed the title forced you to come to grips with what your paper was about.” (182)

“The world’s not just a stage. It’s a casino, and our lives are games of chance. And when people calculate the odds in any life situation, they are often making judgments about similarity – or representativeness. You have some notion of a parent population: “storm clouds” or “gastric ulcers” or “genocidal dictators” or “NBA players.” You compare the specific case to the parent population.” (183)

“The stories people told themselves, when the odds were either unknown or unknowable, were naturally too simple.” (195)

“Man is a deterministic device thrown into a probabilistic Universe.” (197)

“Man’s inability to see the power of regression to the mean leaves him blind to the nature of the world around him.” (203)

“He who sees the past as surprise-free is bound to have a future full of surprises.” (208)

“The problem was not what they (the doctors) knew, or didn’t know. It was their need for certainty or, at least, the appearance of certainty.” (220)

“The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.” (230)

“It is sometimes easier to make the world a better place than to prove you have made the world a better place.” (230)

“That number represented the best estimate of the odds. Apparently the foreign minister didn’t want to rely on the best estimates. He preferred his own internal probability calculator: his gut. “That was the moment I gave up on decision analysis,” said Danny. “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.” (250)

“Happy people did not dwell on some imagined unhappiness the way unhappy people imagined what they might have done differently so that they might be happy. People did not seek to avoid other emotions with the same energy they sought to avoid regret.” (261)

“Danny wrote, “the general point is that the same state of affairs (objectively) can be experienced with very different degrees of misery,” depending on how easy it is to imagine that things might have turned out differently.” (263)

“People did not choose between things. They chose between descriptions of things.” (278)

“After all, what is a marriage if not an agreement to distort one’s perception of another, in relation to everyone else?” (334)

“”The brain appears to be programmed, loosely speaking, to provide as much certainty as it can,” Amos once said, in a talk to a group of Wall Street executives. “It is apparently designed to make the best possible case for a given interpretation rather than to represent all the uncertainty about a given situation.”” (336)

“There was a kind of stoic distance that was astonishing. Amos said, ‘Life is a book. The fact that it was a short book doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book. It was a very good book.’”

“Danny made a rule about his fantasy life: He never fantasized about something that might happen. He established this private rule for his imagination once he realized that, after he had fantasized about something that might actually happen, he lost his drive to make it happen.” (352)

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