One of the secrets to a good life is making good decisions. But what do we understand about the reasoning that underlies good decision making? There are two general ways to study decision making. One is the attempt to formulate rules of logic or mathematics that we should follow. The other looks at ways people actually do make decisions. Psychologists following the second approach have described many surprising ways in which people fail to live up to the standards of logic or mathematics. Do these discoveries show that people are fundamentally irrational, or do these apparent failures tell us something about how we manage to succeed in a complex world?
The course is divided into six, two-week modules that look at different puzzles which arise for understanding human reasoning. We will consider ways in which individual rationality may lead to collective inefficiency. We will look at the the role of logic and mathematics in understanding both biological intelligence and artificial intelligence. We will consider evolutionary explanations for why we make fewer mistakes in some domains than we do in others. We shall investigate parallels between scientific reasoning and the reasoning of young children as they develop theories about the world. Students will be expected to learn some very basic elements of formal deduction, probability theory, and game theory. We will also consider alternatives to formal models of reasoning such as heuristics. And we will look at the question of whether human beings are the only rational animals. Each module will include some on-line activities and classroom exercises.
Grades will be based on participation in classroom and online activities, short quizzes for each module, a midterm exam, and a final.