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Personal Perspectives

Conversations With Kahneman

Personal Perspective: Lessons learned from an adversarial collaboration.

Key points

  • Danny Kahneman demonstrated the value of adversarial collaboration instead of "angry science."
  • Our adversarial collaboration pitted his heuristics and biases vs. my naturalistic decision-making view.
  • We succeeded in identifying conditions that support expert intuition.

On April 13, 2024, I visited the Stewart Building in New York for the last time. This was the home of Danny Kahneman. I had been visiting him there in his apartment for more than 15 years. Our collaboration goes back even further. He won his Nobel Prize in 2002, and we began our collaboration in 2004 when he was still living in Princeton before he moved to New York.

Danny died on March 27. His partner, Barbara Tversky, invited me to an open house for Danny’s friends, family, and colleagues on April 13. A large monitor on a side wall of the apartment showed photographs of Danny as guests filed in and out, all touched by Danny in one way or another

Many of the guests belonged to the heuristics and biases community that Danny and Amos Tversky initiated with their research in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I was an outlier at this gathering. I am a critic of the heuristics and biases approach. My own community of naturalistic decision-making studies expertise instead of trying to debunk it. It does research with experienced decision-makers in real-world settings as opposed to college students performing artificial tasks in controlled environments, and it admires intuition rather than denigrating it.

Those were the reasons Danny invited me to join him in an adversarial collaboration, one of several he engaged in. Because we were adversaries, Danny wanted to see what we could discover. Danny disliked what he called the “angry science” of rivals trying to disqualify each other’s views. He thought adversarial collaborations offered a positive and productive alternative.

Our active collaboration lasted about six years and culminated in a paper, Conditions for Intuitive Expertise: A Failure to Disagree (Kahneman and Klein, 2009). Danny has referred to our work as "my most satisfying experience of adversarial collaboration” (Kahneman, 2022).

At first, Danny and I each tried to persuade each other, but we quickly realized that our attempts would be fruitless and counterproductive. So, we accepted our differences and moved on together.

Danny pushed hard for the subtitle of our article, “a failure to disagree,” which is somewhat misleading because we disagreed all the time. But we also converged on a set of criteria for gaining intuitive expertise: a regular situation as opposed to a chaotic and hypercomplex situation, the opportunity for practice accompanied by accurate and timely feedback on the consequences of decisions.

At the end of the collaboration, as we put the final touches on our article, we acknowledged that Danny liked stories about the mistakes experts make, and that I liked stories about the insights that experts provide. Despite my discomfort with what I perceive as the misuse of the concept of biases, I have suggested that the heuristics and biases movement has identified a number of cognitive tendencies—heuristics—that generally are valuable. We would be hamstrung without these, which I have called “positive heuristics.” I am disappointed that the heuristics and biases community has focused so heavily on the disadvantages of heuristics and has given so little attention to their benefits.

Aside from our professional interaction, Danny and I developed a very satisfying friendship over the decades, especially as we knocked heads in preparing the article that captured what we had learned.

In reflecting on what I have gained from our friendship and collaboration, I am struck by the ways that Danny has inspired me.

I am inspired by the whole process of adversarial collaboration. In contrast to Socrates's enduring influence—he attempted to demean and expose his debate adversaries—Danny took the opposite stance, a generous stance of trying to learn and make discoveries together. For me, Danny is a far superior role model for philosophical debate than Socrates.

I am certainly inspired by the brilliance of his research, especially his collaboration with Amos Tversky.

I am inspired by Danny’s pivots—especially the way it took up other topics, such as the basis of happiness, rather than continuing to investigate heuristics and biases.

I am inspired by the spirit of our debates. He showed how to disagree without being disagreeable.

I am inspired by his fairness. When he revised a draft of our paper, if he made any change that he thought I might have misgivings about, he let me know about it. He never tried to smuggle any ideas or even implications past me.

I am inspired by his curiosity. He was certainly inclined to be skeptical about the existence of intuitive expertise, but then he started wondering if there were conditions that allowed intuitive expertise to develop. He followed his curiosity rather than his predilections.

I am inspired by his adaptability, although I confess I was sometimes frustrated by it. Once, after a few years of work, I thought we were close to a final draft and visited him at his Stewart House apartment. As he opened the door, he said, “I am feeling mischievous today,” with a smile on his face that I can still picture. What that meant was that he wanted to make major changes in the manuscript, and we were far from done.

I am inspired by his humility. He was a Nobel Prize winner, but he never pulled rank. Quality of ideas and force of logic were all that mattered.

It was a privilege to know Danny, work with him, argue with him, and be inspired by him.


Kahneman, D. (2022). Adversarial collaboration: An EDGE lecture.

Kahneman D, & Klein, G. (2009). Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree. American Psychologist, 64, 515-526.

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