Models of My Life Essay - Critical Essays

Herbert Simon

Models of My Life

As befits a world-class theorist, Herbert Simon’s MODELS OF MY LIFE is more explicit than most autobiographies in establishing at the outset the structural principles governing his telling of his life. Describing his life as a maze or series of mazes, Simon is consciously playing against preconceptions. For many readers, he knows, the maze will conjure negative images of intense pressure and confusion, of fateful choices with possibly disastrous consequences. For many, too, the maze will suggest a negative image of the scientist as an aloof experimenter, full of hubris, running his subjects through their paces.

Simon takes this charged image and makes it symbolic of his life’s work: the study of human decision-making. Most of the key choices he has made, Simon notes, were not “deliberate, wrenching decisions to go off in one direction or another.” Only in retrospect did it become clear how his decision to follow one path subsequently determined the range of other paths from which he could choose.

Human beings, Simon argued while still in his early twenties, don’t make decisions in the manner assumed by classical economics, rationally arriving at the optimum choice. Rather, “behavior is determined by the irrational and nonrational elements that bound the area of rationality.” This concept of bounded rationality, central to all of Simon’s work, is illustrated by his account of his own life, which he presents as a series of...

(The entire section is 408 words.)