Feature

Author of the week: Dan Ariely

In The Upside of Irrationality, the author of Predictably Irrational focuses on the positive effects of irrational thinking.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely need look no further than his right hand to be reminded that people are less than perfectly rational, said Neil Offen in the Durham, N.C., Herald-Sun. If Ariely himself were always rational, he would have decided to remove it. Some readers of Ariely’s 2008 best-seller, Predictably Irrational, may remember that he suffered third-degree burns on 70 percent of his body at age 18, when a magnesium flare exploded next to him. In his second book on human decision-making, the Duke University professor finally details the excruciating surgeries that helped save his right arm. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Ariely refused. “A hook would have been more productive and there would be no pain,” he says. “But I was incredibly attached to my hand—in multiple ways.”

In The Upside of Irrationality, Ariely focuses on irrational thinking’s positive effects, said Adam Hanft in BarnesandNobleReview.com. He argues that trust, friendship, or civic cooperation would not be possible if people were purely rational. But when Ariely revisits the decision he made about his own hand, he admits that irrationality may have led him astray. The hand functions well enough that he can type briefly each day. Yet the constant pain remains, as do Ariely’s speculations about whether a prosthesis might have been more functional. “I suspect,” he writes, “that keeping my arm was, in a cost-benefit sense, a mistake.”

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