Noise Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Noise delves into the concept of randomness and talks about how we as humans make decisions that prove to be life-changing, without putting the necessary thought into it, and how we can strengthen our thinking processes.

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Noise is a random mistake in our judgment. The book uses this notion to describe what humans often do without even realizing, and that is making apparently insignificant errors in judgment, which prove to be life-changing in the long run. 

By becoming better at spotting our own cognitive biases, our inclination to see the subjective perspective as a universal truth, and always questioning our judgment, we can learn to anticipate mistakes and avoid altering the course of our thinking, our actions, and implicitly our lives for the worse. Therefore, Noise by Daniel Kahneman delves deep into these concepts and teaches us how to strengthen our minds and improve our thinking processes.

Here are my three favorite lessons from the book:

  1. To err is human, therefore we have a natural inclination toward certain biases.
  2. Humans make wrong predictions almost all the time.
  3. The “wisdom-of-crowds” is a real thing if the sample of people is appropriate for the situation.

If you want to fully understand the lessons presented, keep on reading, as I’ll take each of them one by one and analyze them in detail!

Noise Book Summary

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Lesson 1: Our biases can lead to life-altering decisions, so we must learn to spot them to be able to eradicate them.

All humans make mistakes. However, it is the degree and frequency of those mistakes that alter the course of our path and the lives of those around us. Moreover, if we are in powerful positions, such as heads of admission committees, judges, or any other profession that calls for neutrality and a strong mind that can carry cognitive processes almost err-free, we must eliminate the mistakes and biases completely. Ultimately, it’s a moral responsibility and not just a professional one. 

Therefore, to do away with biases and errors in the thinking process, you must first learn how to recognize them. A bias is usually used to describe one’s inclination to devalue another human based on personal assumptions. However, a bias is just a systematic error we make in our thinking process, which ultimately alters our judgment. Although it’s not the same as noise, it can lead to it. 

The types of biases are many, but let’s take one in particular for example: the conclusion bias. Sometimes, we have a desired outcome in mind and therefore interpret all information in a way favorable to that outcome. Naturally, this affects our judgment and the course of our actions. However, asking yourself questions like: “am I true to myself in the decisions I’m taking?” or “am I being fair by indulging in this action?” can help you question your perspective and get back on the right track.

Lesson 2: Humans are naturally inclined to seek closure and blindly follow a flawed gut when making predictions.

Predictions are more accurate when complex algorithms and high-performance machines make them instead of humans. But that’s not something that may come as a surprise. Still, why is that? In simple words, humans are prone to error and subjectivity, and we’re way too confident in our gut’s ability to make predictions. Our brain seeks answers to questions, closure, and that feeling of “rightness”.

Therefore, we look for convenient answers that make us feel good and give us the closure we’ve been seeking, even though that may not be the right one. A trained mind can get past the initial barriers of noise, such as the conclusion bias, and therefore seek the truth in the matter. Still, what if you truly don’t know the answer? Imagine being a judge who has to decide for the lives of so many people and their families all the time. And being confronted with this huge burden without knowing which is the correct answer. Naturally, their mind gravitates toward finding an answer that feels right and gives them closure.  

Studies show that simple algorithms and basic formulas can outperform judges with years of experience when it comes to predicting the correct outcome of a trial and what the criminals will do. Why is that? Due to the noise! Noise can blur our judgment and allow the emotional factor to disturb our rationality. This is how we end up in objective ignorance, which is a state of mind where we’re looking for a satisfying prediction that fulfills our inner desire for closure, rightness, and the answer to a burning question.

Lesson 3: Noise gets canceled by averaging the opinions of people through the wisdom-of-crowds.

You may have or may have not heard of the wisdom-of-crowds, but either way, let me explain this remarkable concept in detail. In a nutshell, it states that although the individual opinions of people on a given matter vary and are sometimes completely opposite from each other, once you average them, the result is most likely the correct answer, or not too far from it, anyways. 

So why is that? In simple terms, noise cancels noise. In various studies, averaging the answers of people who were asked the number of beans in a jar, the distance between two cities, or other different questions whatsoever, proved to result in a value extremely close to the truth. However, to make this concept work, we must respect a few rules. First, the subjects must be independent of each other. Their opinions mustn’t be influenced. And the question has to be the same and formulated equally for each participant. 

Then, the crowd must be diversified in a way that they don’t share the same bias. If they do, they’ll gravitate towards the same answers, and therefore alter the effect of this concept through a lack of diversity. While the wisdom-of-crowds doesn’t guarantee a solution to the noise in our minds and a sure pathway to the truth, it’s getting us one step closer to finding answers to burning questions and solutions for problems we find hard to fix.

Noise Review

Noise teaches us how to spot errors in our thinking and get rid of the undesired variability in our judgment. Learn to address problems step by step, then find the correct solutions. A worthy read from a Nobel Prize winner!

Who would I recommend our Noise summary to?

The 45-year-old soon-to-be judge who wants to strengthen their mind before starting their journey in this field, the 30-year-old person who wants to work on their cognitive biases and understand their judgment mechanism so as to improve it, or the 40-year-old behavioral economist who wants to expand their knowledge in this field by approaching inter-related subjects.

Last Updated on May 6, 2024

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Maria Deac

While working with my friend Ovi's company SocialBee, I had the good fortune of Maria writing over 200 summaries for us over the course of 18 months. Maria is a professional SEO copywriter, content writer, and social media marketing specialist. When she's not writing or learning more about marketing, she loves to dance and travel all over the world.