The Odd Couple Israeli Scientists Who Changed Psychology Forever


Amos and Danny were an unlikely duo.

Amos Tversky was an eternal optimist, an Israeli military hero, and a neat freak.

Even as a young man, Danny Kahneman was a pessimist and a worrier. Forced into hiding during the Holocaust, he immigrated to Palestine after the war, and eventually landed in the same Psychology department as Tversky, where the two began a scientific collaboration that would make history across a variety of disciplines.

Their explosive beginning ended up being an accurate predictor of their eventual falling out.

“Brilliant talk,” Kahneman told Tversky after hearing him lecture. “But I don’t believe a word of it.”

Michael Lewis’s new book, The Undoing Project, is a fascinating portrait of these two brilliant psychologists and their dynamic as a team. Amos started out studying cognitive and mathematical psychology. Danny was more interested in visual perception. They found common ground dissecting the human decision-making process. They had a penchant for figuring out why people made irrational choices, and formulated “prospect theory,” to explain how and why people take risks.

But what makes the book a juicy read is how Lewis invites us to analyze the two scientists as they analyze the human brain: the way they debate and digress, the way Tversky speaks out, while Kahneman scrupulously rechecks his data.

The two men finally drifted, their personality differences exacerbated by the eventual geographic distance between them. But their legacy as a team lives on – a fruitful collaboration of both mind and heart.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Tversky

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