Buy Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland (ISBN: ) from Amazon’s Book Store. Everyday low prices and free delivery on eligible orders. Irrational beliefs and behaviours are virtually universal. In this iconoclastic book Stuart Sutherland analyses causes of irrationality and examines why we are. Stuart Sutherland’s hilarious dissection of everyday reasoning, Irrationality, should be in bedside cabinets the world over, says Nicholas Lezard.

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The implicit premise behind this column is that, each week, I say in effect: First published inIrrationality proposes, and to any reasonable mind proves, that we are for the most part credulous fools who would do well, in most circumstances, to stop and think before we go and do something stupid; for stupid things are what we often end up doing, however much we congratulate ourselves on being rational animals.

Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland

The book’s conclusions would appear to be just as valid in as they were 15 years ago. Not that it is actually grim or depressing.

Idiocy is, after all, funny, and the late Stuart Sutherland, despite or perhaps because of having been professor of psychology at Sussex University, had an eye for the absurdities to which we subject ourselves. There are few books about psychology that can make you laugh out loud; this is one of them.


Reason to be cheerful

Take one familiar sutheralnd Despite excruciating boredom, people often refuse to leave, even if the show is so bad that they would have paid sutherlland small amount of money to avoid seeing it at all. Thus, they irrationally suffer a double blow – they have spent money and they endure an hour or two’s needless boredom. The sensible thing for them to do is to leave, which means they only suffer the monetary loss. Although, as a confirmed interval-leaver, I can smugly pat myself on the back for having worked that one out for myself.

The hope that “it might get better” has never once been justified.

But Sutherland’s keen analysis of our propensity to self-delusion takes us into more significant areas than sticking it out through a rotten play – however much doing so may be a metaphor for larger issues. He revisits Stanley Irratkonality disturbing tests on obedience conducted at Yale, and goes on to draw some further useful conclusions about how human behaviour is affected by the presence of others, using the notorious example of the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York 38 people saw her killed; not one called the police – they all thought someone else would.

Most chapters end with a few points going under the heading “moral”, which clarify what he irrattionality said.

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You could, if you were in a real hurry, read only these morals and find your powers of ratiocination enhanced. The morals at the end of his chapter on obedience are: Ask whether the command is justified. Never volunteer to become a subject in the Psychological Laboratory at Yale. Elsewhere, he launches irationality the self-serving stupidity of the more exalted professions.

The civil service comes in for some gleefully pointed criticism – he quotes one civil servant who once said: Everywhere he finds evidence that people who should use actuarial methods, rather than intuition, to determine probabilities don’t do so. Doctors who rely on hunches and do not understand how to use statistics; companies that hire graphologists to vet potential employees; prime ministers who don’t listen to cabinet ministers – all these get a pasting, and he has banks of facts and figures to back up his arguments.

It is an extraordinary exercise in large-scale clarification. And with Sutherland, clarity of thought and clarity of sutherlwnd are one.

Bemoaning the reluctance of medical institutions to trust actuarial methods, he says: