"Despite the medieval paintings, Error is not a single being, born of sin, and enemy of Man. Error, unpersonified, is a part of our thinking process - an ally. If a dangerous one, in understanding and controlling the world. Once we know its taxonomy, from slips to motivated reasoning, we can design our way out of some of it." (p. 139)
Bozo Sapiens is a book based on the above premise: that error in thinking is endemic to human nature. Take away our tendency to err, and you take away a part of what makes us human. While no one is saying that humans do not possess a good deal of rationality, the truth still runs contra to what logicians and some philosophers want us to believe: we are not always the rational animal.
The book starts with a lively discussion on what logic is (a tool for thought), why it is important, and why it is not the natural state of the mind. One must work at logic, as evidenced by the bevy just as alive today as when Aristotle first catalogued them. Rather than being the laws of thought (as some have supposed) logic is a sometimes unnatural tool that we can, but often don't, use to think our way to conclusions.
What else do we use? The answer is taken up by the next 2/3rds - the meat - of the book. First, there are sensory mistakes (optical illusions, false memories, selective listening, etc.). Since we humans rely on our senses for much of what we believe, when our senses go wrong, it is hard indeed to rectify the situation (try convincing the schizophrenic that there is no CIA plot to listen to his inner thoughts, or the ghost-hunter that it is all smoke and mirrors).
Another favorite fallacy of the Kaplan's is "motivated reasoning,"; what is more commonly called "confirmation bias." We humans have a tendency to favor our own leanings rather than to see situations objectively. This leads not only to people "sseing evidence everywhere" for some most foolish beliefs (holocaust denial, UFOlogy), but to our tendency to erroneously believe that others err more than we. All of this is made possible by our very very human tendency to attend to the "hits" while ignoring or discounting the "misses."
An entire chapter is devoted to errors made in economics. The authors rightly see economics and finance as a field where inordinate amount of errors occur, and rightly note that this is largely becuase our evolved brains were not "designed" to handle large numbers and statistics. We come from hunter/gatherers whose brains helped them get food and deal with things right in front of them, rather than placeholders, decimals, and commas.
Lastly, we deal with the very human areas of love and ethics. We have all done stupid things for love. How stupid? Well, our authors detail some fascinating examples (which show that we have not gotten far beyond our ancestors' tendency to think short-term when the heart is concerned.) And ethics? Well, philosophers have debated its fine points for years, and our authors fare no better. What do we make of humans' conflicting impulses towards doing for onesself and helping others, for short-term gain and long-term happiness, for 'ends in themselves' and 'ends justified by means.'
All in all, Bozo Sapiens is a page turning read for those who, like myself, marvel at our remarkable human strength and frailty. The Kaplans never intend to degrade humans by pointing out the more stupid things we do, but only to remind us that we are human and that this is for better or worse.
One complaint I have about this book is that it is often whirligig in nature, never sticking to one subject long enough to do more than offer a brief taste. There is not much original here (that cannot also be found in books like "Nudge," and "Predictably Irrational.") That said, the writing and examples used are fascinating, and I reccomend this book to anyone fascinated with how our brain works (or does not).