William Hamilton

The Undoing Project: Ways and Means

“When someone says something, don’t just ask yourself if it is true.” Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman would say. “Ask yourself what might it be true of.”

Kahneman’s insights are captured in the new book, The Undoing Project, where he is lauded as “a spectacularly original connoisseur of human error.” Undoing is all about dialing back our assumptions in decision making.  This is important because following our gut is often a mistake.   We don’t realize how consistently we bias our decisions with our expectations, our interpretations, our recollections, and our emotions.

One common bias is called ‘confirmation bias’ where we seek data that confirms what we already believe.  We like familiar news that reinforces what we know.  We are less friendly to new or different knowledge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about confirmation bias relation to how we process news from and about Israel.  Undoing assumptions in this case is a very tall order.  Whether our priorities focus on gender, Judaism, or politics, our confirmation biases have continued to harden over time.

Neither the will nor the way to undo is fully addressed in The Undoing Project.  Its protagonists are much more interested in pointing out and explaining our decision-making tendencies.

Yet one way to dislodge calcified biases is through powerful experience.  The medieval thinker Abravanel used to say,  “Experience is more forceful than logic.”  This is also true of theo-logic, as God’s presence needs to be experienced before it can be fully thought.

Considering Israel’s primacy in this centennial year of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, there is something as important as advocacy, investment, and attachment — namely experience.

Experiencing Israel is essential to growing Jewishly today.

Israel has become a major pillar of American Jewish identity.  But vicarious connections will not inspire the way deep experiences can.  Israel experiences awaken a visitor to important truths.  It is remarkable how connectivity nourishes.  It is wondrous how reliable creativity inspires.  It is momentous how recognizable history can be.  it is heart-quickening to see how quiet goodness resurfaces each day.  And it is breathtaking how unstoppable hope is.

‘People accept any explanation as long as it fits the facts’ Kahneman notes.  Visit.  Experience.  Connect.  Deepen. And create some new facts.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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