Book review of The Psychology of Stupidity

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Book review of The Psychology of Stupidity
Book review of The Psychology of Stupidity

Anthology of Folly

Why and how do people behave stupidly? 29 experts reflect on a neglected research topic.

Psychologists still struggle with a uniform definition of intelligence. Their opposite, however, is perhaps one of the most neglected human traits. The French science journalist Jean-François Marmion found that stupidity is almost a blind spot of research - and then brought well-known experts from various fields to think about the topic. The results are collected in this volume of essays and interviews. Psychologists, neuroscientists, neurologists, psychiatrists, philosophers, sociologists and linguists, including luminaries such as Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics, and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, have their say in 29 chapters.

From Hillbilly to Collective Stupidity

"Should we get drunk on our rationality, despair in the face of our stupidity, or see our weakness as an opportunity?" Marmion asks at the beginning of the book. The authors examine our folly from completely different perspectives below. Sometimes it's serious, sometimes it's funny, but it's always extremely exciting. The journalist Jean-François Dortier tries his hand at a typology of stupidity. He differentiates, for example, the hillbilly from the gullible, illuminates stupidity as a group phenomenon and classic intellectual disability, formerly known as feeblemindedness or idiocy.

In his contribution, the philosopher Pascal Engel takes a close look at the phenomenon of "bullshit". "Bullshitting" is about statements made by the speaker, regardless of whether they are true or not. The "bullshitter" does not simply lie, but rather systematically disregards the rules of true and false and questions the value of truth itself - a common form of stupidity in the post-factual age.

The psychologist and mathematician Nicolas Gauvrit explains which mental traps people often fall into. According to him, because of our tendency to look everywhere for hidden patterns, we tend to assume connections where in reality only chance was at work. This quality leads us, among other things, to fortune tellers or makes us prematurely fall for conspiracy theories.

The technical articles are attractively written and mostly understandable for laypeople. At one point or another, however, it is difficult to follow the authors' leaps of thought, and one would have wished for a more reader-friendly derivation. Still, this anthology of human simplicity is a worthwhile read, and one that I hope will come out a little less stupid.

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