A short sharp meditation on how we know what we know and how we decide what we decide by the director of the Center of Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.
When I became director of the Max Planck institute of Human Development, I wanted to create an interdisciplinary research group whose members actually talked worked and published together–a rare thing. Unless one actively creates an environment that supports this goal, collaboration tends to fall apart within a few years or may never get off the ground in the first place. The major obstacle is a mental one.
Researchers like most ordinary people tend to identify with their in group and ignore or even look down on neighboring disciplines. Yet most relevant topics we study today do not respect the historically grown disciplinary borders and to make progress, one must look beyond one’s own narrow point of view so I came up with a set of rules, not verbalized but acted upon that would create the kind of culture I desired.
Those rules included: EVERYONE ON THE SAME PLANE.
In my experience, employees who work on different floors interact 50% less than those who work on the same floor. And the loss is greater for those working in different buildings. People often behave as if they still lived in the savannah, where they look for others horizontally but not above or below ground. So when my growing group needed an additional 2000 square feet in which to operate, I vetoed the architect’s proposal that we construct a new building, and extended our existing offices horizontally so that everyone remained on the same plane…..
This pancake theory of organizational vitality is just one demonstration of the non-logical rules that govern human environments.
Intelligence is at work in what we call gut feelings, hunches and intuitions — despite the fact that we cannot account for them. Intelligence is also at work in the non-logical rules of thumb we use to navigate and predict the behavior of others.
Consider a woman waiting for a black suitcase at Kennedy Airport, and a cop who is looking only for a woman who is looking out for him. How does he zero in on the woman?
Consider a baseball player who wants to catch a ball: how does he calculate where the ball will be so he can catch it?
How does Harry decide on which of his two girlfriends he should marry?
Different heuristics and rules of thumb underlie intuitions, enabling fast action, utilizing ‘recognition memory’ and the ability to track moving objects… But these rules are not logical. Gerd Gigerenzer navigates the place that gut feelings hold within human knowing, inviting us to re-evaluate both knowing and feeling.