Friday, December 2, 2016

Kahneman: Doing Nobel-winning work does not guarantee self esteem

For social-science nerds, [Michael] Lewis provides the back story to Dr. Kahneman and Dr. Tversky’s most famous papers. But the real drama of “The Undoing Project” — the scenes on the peak-end highlight reel — revolve around Dr. Tversky and Dr. Kahneman, both as individuals and as a creative pair. ...

As often happens in collaborations, one person, fairly or unfairly wound up getting more credit for the work, and in this case, it was Dr. Tversky. For Dr. Kahneman, this imbalance generated terrible tension and envy. That we know the details of such a close relationship, and its rocky emotional topography, is astonishing. Dr. Kahneman, 82, now at Princeton, seldom speaks to writers. But Mr. Lewis, as we know, is no an ordinary author. ...

And what do we learn? That envy really is corrosive. That successful marriages involve, as the psychologist Marcel Zentner discovered, “positive illusions.” That world-famous psychologists can be blind to the needs of those around them. And that even winning a Nobel doesn’t guarantee self-esteem. Late in life, Dr. Kahneman remained a rattling kettle of self-doubt.

In a remarkable note on his sources, Mr. Lewis reveals that for years he watched Dr. Kahneman agonize over his 2011 book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” which became both a critical and a fan favorite. “Every few months he’d be consumed with despair, and announce that he was giving up writing altogether — before he destroyed his own reputation,” Mr. Lewis writes. “To forestall his book’s publication he paid a friend to find people who might convince him not to publish it.”

Dr. Tversky never fully understood these fits of doubt. Nor did he see how he made them worse. “I needed to get away,” Dr. Kahneman said. “He possessed my mind.”