Sunday, August 09, 2009

Paul Krugman Thinks Like A Small Child

And I mean that as a compliment. A book about how children think was reviewed in the NY Times today and it reminded me of something Krugman wrote in Slate magazine in 1997. So I wrote a letter to the Times book review editor showing the similarity. If it gets printed, I will report that here. The letter is below followed by links to the 1997 Slate article and the book review.

"I read with interest Anthony Gottlieb's review of Alison Gopnik's book "The Philosophical Baby" ("Young Philosophers," p. 9, Aug.9). What most caught my attention was the following passage: "A recurring theme of Gopnik’s is the idea that playful immersion in freely conjured hypothetical worlds is what teaches us how to make sense of the real one. She describes, for instance, how small children’s grasp of “counterfactual” situations enables them to calculate the probabilities of alternative courses of action."

By an amazing coincidence, that same Book Review issue had two reviews by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. He wrote something very similar in Slate magazine in 1997. It was "You can't do serious economics unless you are willing to be playful. Economic theory a menagerie of thought must play with those ideas in hypothetical settings. Innovative thinkers, in economics and other disciplines, often have a pronounced whimsical streak." Krugman also mentioned how some writers can take their subject "too seriously to play intellectual games. To test-drive an idea with seemingly trivial thought experiments, with hypothetical stories about simplified economies." Maybe we would all benefit from more training in this technique."

The Accidental Theorist

Young Philosophers

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