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Additional resources for Complications A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
H O W C O M M O N SENSE FA ILS US Without a doubt, the experience of participating in the social world greatly facilitates our ability to understand it. Were it not for the intimate knowledge of our own thought processes, along with countless observations of the words, actions, and explanations of others— both experienced in person and also learned remotely— the vast intricacies of human behavior might well be inscrutable. Nevertheless, the combination of intuition, experience, and received wisdom on which we rely to generate commonsense explanations of the social world also disguises certain errors of reasoning that are every bit as systematic and pervasive as the errors of commonsense phys ics.
N O T C O M M O N AT A LL As remarkable as it is, common sense exhibits some mysteri ous quirks, one of the most striking of which is how much it varies over time, and across cultures. Several years ago, for example, an enterprising group of economists and anthro pologists set out to test how different cultures play a par ticular kind of game, called an ultimatum game. The game goes something like this: First, pick two people and give one of them $100. That person then has to propose a split of the money between himself and the other player, ranging from offering them the whole amount to nothing at all.
So what did they think was different about these two countries that could ac count for the choices of their citizens? Being smart and cre ative students, they came up with lots of possibilities. Perhaps one country was secular while the other was highly religious. Perhaps one had more advanced medical care, and better suc cess rates at organ transplants, than the other. Perhaps the rate of accidental death was higher in one than another, re sulting in more available organs. Or perhaps one had a highly socialist culture, emphasizing the importance of community, while the other prized the rights of individuals.