Friday, July 1, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Everything is Obvious

Title: Everything is Obvious

Author: Duncan Watts

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

RRP: $32.99

ISBN: 9781848872158

Release Date: June 2011

Pages: 320


Everything is Obvious shatters the myth of common sense and points the way to a future where science promises to illuminate the shadows of the human psyche.


Common sense underpins the constellation of decisions and opinions we make and form every day. As individuals, and as a society, the way we behave, react and interact is grounded in our perception of 'the sensible thing to do'. But history is a litany of the insensible; misunderstandings and failures, wastes of money and in some cases, wastes of life. And yet we continue to trust in the infallibility of common sense.

In this bold thesis, renowned network scientist Duncan J. Watts exposes the complex mechanics of judgement and proposes a radical new way of thinking about human behaviour. Everything is Obvious demonstrates the striking degree that common sense is rarely applicable as foresight, but rather only as hindsight; and how it is less a process of logic, but rather a product of influence. But if our decisions and opinions are so governed by others, can we be sure if common sense is indicative of what is sensible, or simply of what is common?


Duncan Watts is a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research. He is also professor sociology at Columbia University, and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute, and of Nuffield College, Oxford. His research on social networks and collective dynamics has appeared in a wide range of academic journals. Watts is the author of two books, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness.


Watts begins by discussing the myth of common sense: all the things we tacitly accept as true and self-evident which actually aren't. With both real-world examples and recent research, Watts demonstrates his point with wit and vigour.

If you are an individual who often finds themselves challenging common conceptions, you will love this book! It speaks to the reasons why what we call common sense isn't, the fact that so-called experts are no more accurate in their perceptions and predictions than the public overall, will challenge the way you look at the world in the future.

Common sense furnishes standard explanations of lots of things, and we tell ourselves stories (or the news tells us stories) to explain past events. But what if those obvious explanations are wrong? There's no way to validate most of them, and alternate explanations are easy to come up with once you think about it. No matter who won the Best Actor Oscar, it's easy to explain. But if one of the other actors won, that explanation would make just as much sense.

Duncan has written a wonderful book exploring this paradox. He's great on exposing the problem. His examples are fascinating and original - no retreads of the same old behavioural economics insights here.

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