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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Year End 2011 Intersections Between Law and Science – U.S. Political “Fast Thinking&#822

As year end 2011 arrives, a powerful and popular book is Thinking Fast and Slow, by 2002 Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, a research scientist focused on how our minds actually work. The Nobel Prize was for economic science, and would have been shared with a colleague but for an untimely death. The book is reviewed in depth here (the Guardian), here (NYT), here (Financial Times), and here (Economist).

In short, the book compiles lessons from many years of scientific experiments, and proves that intuition, judgments and more forms of "thinking" are frequently produced without much (or any) conscious weighing of factors. That outcome occurs because the dominant part of our thinking process is a fast, automatic system that processes information in ways influenced by factors far more subtle than one would suspect (System 1 is the book’s label). Ideas take hold, for example, when they become familiar from repetition, regardless of whether they are correct or good ideas. Ideas also take hold when we are "primed" towards a thought, with "priming" occurring in incredibly subtle ways (e.g. young people will walk more slowly after reading a group of words related to being elderly). Our predominant "fast" thinking contrast with "slow" thinking involving, for example, math calculations and other complex tasks (System 2 thinking). Slow thinking taxes people both physically and mentally, and so the natural tendency is to reduce slow thinking and leave decisions to fast thinking.

Year end 2011 also brings evidence tending to prove the argument that political thought is now on sale, cheap. The sale arises through the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision -background here and here. The decision prohibits effective limits on the money poured into political speech. The proof of the power of the money – and tight ties to candidates – is arising now through primary elections in Iowa. There, about $2.8 million of advertising by a wealthy super PAC appears to have turned the tide against Mr. Gingrich, and in favor of Mr. Romney, as detailed by Nicholas Confessore and Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times and by The Iowa Republican web site. And the super PAC is run by former key aides to Mr. Romney.

$2.8 million buys massive advertising. Repetition. Priming. Fast thinking. Political thought now on sale, cheap.

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