The Dan Ariely Lecture that I attended some months ago had a lot of overlap with the contents of Predictably Irrational, Prof. Ariely's 2008 book subtitled "The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions". The published version has more detail, however, and covers a wider range of human foibles. It's also extraordinarily well-written, fast, and fun. The tone is chatty and personal-anecdotal, but with lots of statistically tested data and quantitative analysis.
In brief, Predictably Irrational is about why people make the choices they do. We clearly have not evolved into utility-maximizing machines, at least not for any logical definition of "utility". As Ariely observes in chapter 2:
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps it's time to inventory the imprints and anchors in our own life. Even if they once were completely reasonable, are they still reasonable? Once the old choices are reconsidered, we can open ourselves to new decisions—and the new opportunities of a new day. That seems to make sense.
Ariely's thoughtful, self-critical tone is reminiscent of Ken Knisley's in No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed. Some other memorable tidbits from Predictably Irrational:
Bottom line: just as we've learned about optical illusions (and similar perceptual breakdowns) and, once educated, are wary and can avoid being fooled, we should know about the bugs that have evolved in naïve human decisionmaking mechanisms. Then we can avoid being manipulated by marketers, hornswoggled by politicians, and the like. Predictably Irrational does a fine job of highlighting many such flaws in human choice.
^z - 2011-02-22