Thinking, Fast and Slow was a good book. It was a little difficult to read because it discusses some difficult concepts and the author asks you questions throughout the book. It’s something you want to read when your brain is fresh and ready for thinking. It is not something you want to read when you are tired and ready to relax a bit. The book provides extraordinary insight into how the mind works and why people make the decisions they do. It’s always easier to judge other people than judge yourself, but this book is a valuable tool for both tasks.
The author, Daniel Kahneman has spent his life as a student and professor of psychology. He received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 with his friend Amos Tversky. Unlike Barack Obama, it looks like these guys actually earned a Nobel Prize.
Part 1 of the book describes how it is useful to think of the human mind being divided into two parts. System 1 is our intuition. It is effortless and makes judgements and conclusions immediately. This system is largely responsible for keeping us alive in a state of nature. System 2 is our deliberate thinking brain. It takes effort, and thus many people don’t want to do it.
System 1 simplifies things into heuristics. It works well most of the time. Nobody can go through their day putting mental effort into examining each choice and action. Heuristics are needed to make the thousands of quick judgements and decisions that we make daily. However System 1 can be tricked. We often accept fallacies because we do not examine them with our thinking System 2 brain, we simply take what our System 1 brain offers to us because System 2 takes effort to perform and is lazy.
Our System 1 brain is extremely good at picking out anything that is abnormal. However it tends to ignore things that have become normal. This is why we often take for granted all the wonderful things in our lives, while being upset about a single bad thing. The abnormal bad thing overwhelms our System 1 and it seems like it’s a bigger deal than it is. This ties into Nassim Taleb’s work on how bad the average person is at assessing risk. We all tend to think that terrorism is a very bad, dangerous thing. But the fact is that many more of us will die in car crashes than in terrorist attacks. In spite of this, we often drive at high speeds on icy roads without a seat belt while demanding freedom crushing government agencies such as the TSA ensure we are “safe” from terrorists.
The book describes how you can get very different answers to a question depending on how you frame it. Also lawyers and others use System 1 (emotions) to present the “truth” in such a manner that it benefits their case. Marketers also exploit System 1 to get people nudged in the direction that they want them nudged. There are rare people who make better use of their System 2 brain and see through these tricks, however most people rely on their System 1 and emotions to make their decisions for them. Once a decision is made by System 1, if System 2 is used at all it is merely used to justify the decision that System 1 already made.
Kahneman describes how we look for stories. An event will happen, and our System 1 will immediately create a story to provide meaning to that even. System 2 then kicks in to make the story, true or not, plausible.
Part 5 was particularly intriguing to me. There Kahneman describes how we all have two selves. We have our experiencing self, and our remembering self. Our experiencing self is always in various stages of comfort or discomfort, but this is in contrast to our remembering self. When undergoing certain trials, if the end was pleasant, we often have a pleasant memory of that trial. In contrast, if the majority of our time in a certain activity was enjoyable, but the end was miserable, we will remember the entire activity as unpleasant.
This is how someone can be happily married for many years, go through a nasty divorce at the end, and feel that the entire marriage was a catastrophe. The amount of time spent in pain or bliss doesn’t matter. What matters is the part we remember.
Interestingly, if a person is told before they undergo a medical procedure that it will be very painful, but they will be given an amnesic so that they will remember none of the pain, they often think that is a good deal. The only thing that seems to matter is pain we remember. People are even less sympathetic to their amnesic selves than they are to an amnesic stranger. The memory is much more important than the experience.
All things considered this is a great book that will teach you a lot about the human mind. It can give you tips and tricks for avoiding common mistakes of reasoning. It is a tough read, so try to read this book when you are ready for a challenge, not when you have been doing bourbon shots.