Course Name: "The Hidden Side of Everything": Rationality and Decision Making
Instructor: Jeff Hopper
As argued by Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, that in making decisions, “people respond to incentives, although not necessarily in ways that are predictable or manifest. Therefore, one of the most powerful laws in the universe is the law of unintended consequences.”
Students in this section will explore the amount of evidence necessary to make rational decisions, examine the incentives and motivations that influence our decision-making process, and investigate the level of incentives and evidence necessary to change one’s mind. These ideas will be developed in two stages. First, some foundational principals on rational decision-making, incentives, and motivation will be explored. We will follow this by exploring why we decide to believe what we believe by taking on some unusual questions that challenge conventional wisdom. What do schoolteachers and Sumo-wrestlers have in common? What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common? How is a street prostitute like a department store Santa? How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore these questions and “the hidden side of everything” in their books Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics and we will do the same.
So, why use these books as texts for the First Year Seminar? FYRS challenges students to examine arguments and evidence and think critically. And, as stated by the Harvard Business Review, “we think we know how the world operates, but we really don’t… [Levitt and Dubner] use the science of economics and concrete data to challenge our assumptions about everything…you’ll walk away with a more critical eye to many things presented as fact.”