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Hire Thine Enemy: Daniel Kahneman on Adversarial Collaboration

Daniel Kahneman makes an important point, one rarely addressed so directly in academic circles – that the ego-clashes we tend to excuse among high-achievers are dangerously counterproductive when it comes to advancing human knowledge. He proposes adversarial collaboration as one alternative. 


I think that a lot of the higher quality of American discourse, when it has been high, is out of respect for the fact that, yes, these [founding documents] are interesting and valuable things that impose respect for people of other views.  And, at this point, things have deteriorated to the point that it is as if morally wrong to have a sort of attitude of presumptive respect toward someone you disagree with.  That’s just bizarre and it’s obviously not a formula for civilized society.

       – Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author of Gilead, on Big Think TV



Having grown up in Israel, psychologist Daniel Kahneman knows a lot about conflict. And he doesn’t like it. While the Nobel laureate psychologist sees the Israeli-Palestinian tension as tragically unresolvable, he has approached professional disagreements throughout his long career with a strategy he calls adversarial collaboration; whenever possible, Kahneman remains in open dialogue with his most outspoken critics, going so far on one occasion as to co-author a paper with a dissenting colleague, presenting both scientists’ differing conclusions. 

Kahneman describes an intense aversion to anger as part of his natural temperament. 

Daniel Kahneman: I happen to be an extreme case…for me, anger goes into depression very quickly.  I hate being angry and so I hate the adversarial exchanges that you frequently find in the social sciences and actually in the physical sciences as well, where people are snide and they use sarcasm.  I haven’t initiated that much, not because I’m a saint, but because I hate being angry,

His modesty aside, Kahneman makes an important point, one rarely addressed so directly in academic circles – that the ego-clashes we tend to excuse among high-achievers are dangerously counterproductive when it comes to advancing human knowledge. In the social sciences, and (possibly to a lesser extent) in the physical sciences, they can result in warring schools of thought whose differences (think Freud and Jung) persist for generations. 

VIDEO: Daniel Kahneman on Adversarial Collaboration


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