The Illusion of Validity vs. Phronesis

Last night I was lucky enough to catch KQED’s Forum with Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. One of the most interesting concepts that he mentioned last night was what he calls the “illusion of validity.” The idea is that oftentimes the stories we know, tell ourselves, and interpret our experience through can be misleading (perhaps that’s really not so earth-shattering). Even in instances where we may really think we see something, interpret it, and are highly confident in our interpretation, our conclusions can be totally wrong (he points this out especially among financial advisors who often cannot predict market directions regardless of knowledge).

Yet, Kahneman differentiates this from expertise. Over long periods of time, if we are engaged in a practice that involves trial and error wherein we can learn from our mistakes and there is a regularity in the phenomenon we are looking at, we can develop a skill–something akin to Aristotle’s notion of phronesis (or practical wisdom).

I find Kahneman’s work interesting and intend to look into it further. The concept of the “illusion of validity” will be of interest, perhaps, to those also who utilize Bourdieusian theory in their work. Bourdieu’s notion of “illusio” (i.e., a socialized interest in the particular culture and social position within one lives) combined with his concept of “misrecognition” and Kahneman’s “illusion of validity” are worth comparing and maybe even integrating.

If these stories we tell ourselves or these internalized social schemas really filter and organize the internal and external stimulus we experience, there are interesting implications to explore in the realm of practical ethics and even in the study of how religious beliefs may either affect behavior or at least the interpretation of behavior.


About Jaime Wright

An individual so traumatized by his parents' late-in-life conversion from "life in the fast lane" to born again Christianity that he has been driven to study religion for the rest of his life. His main interest is in religion "outside the box" ... religiosity as it happens in small groups, subcultures, and organizations. View all posts by Jaime Wright

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