Dr. Daniel Kahneman is one of the world's greatest living psychologists, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, and a winner of the Nobel prize for Economics.
Thinking Fast and Slow is the summary of a lifetime of his groundbreaking research on the nature of the human mind. It is destined to become a timeless classic alongside Dr. Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Dr. Kahneman labels the approximately 95% of the mind that is unconscious `System 1'; and the approximately 5% of the mind that is conscious `System 2'.
« System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention in the effortful mental activities that demand it. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.
When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, System 1 effortlessly originates impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. "
"In the unlikely event of this book being made into a film, System 2 would be a supporting character who believes herself to be the hero. The defining feature of System 2, in this story, is that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary. As a consequence, the thoughts and actions that System 2 believes it has chosen are often guided by the figure at the center of the story, System 1."
Or as Dr. David Eagleman summarizes in `Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain': "The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control. The conscious you is the smallest part of what's transpiring in your brain. Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot."
Dr. Kahneman explains that "System 1 continuously monitors what is going on outside and inside the mind, and continuously generates assessments of various aspects of the situation without specific intention and with little or no effort. These `basic assessments' play an important role in intuitive judgement." Most of our beliefs and choices originate here.
System 1 is active and always on. System 2 is too weak to be always on, so it is selectively re-active:
"The often-used phrase `pay attention' is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you (System 2) can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind even to stimuli that normally attract attention. The most dramatic demonstration was offered by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla. They constructed a short film of two teams passing basketballs, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely absorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds. About half the people who see the video do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task and the instruction to ignore one of the teams that causes the blindness. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness."
"Both self-control and cognitive effort are forms of mental work (by System 2). People who are simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and by a temptation are more likely to yield to the temptation (e.g. eating junk food).
People who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgments in social situations. A few drinks have the same effect, as does a sleepless night. An effort of will or self-control is tiring; if you have to force yourself to do something, you (System 2) are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around. The phenomenon has been named `ego depletion.'"
Dr. Kahneman goes on to offer explanations of numerous limitations and vulnerabilities of our minds, including `cognitive ease', `confirmatory bias', `narrative fallacy', the `halo effect', the `anchoring effect', the `mere exposure effect', the `affect heuristic', stereotyping and `priming':
"A sentence that is printed in a clear font, or has been repeated, or has been primed, will be fluently processed with `cognitive ease'. Hearing a speaker when you are in a good mood also induces cognitive ease. Conversely, you experience cognitive strain when you read instructions in a poor font, or in faint colors, or worded in complicated language, or when you are in a bad mood, or even when you frown.
REPEATED EXPERIENCE or CLEAR DISPLAY or PRIMED IDEA or GOOD MOOD = EASE = FEELS FAMILIAR or FEELS TRUE or FEELS GOOD or FEELS EFFORTLESS
When you feel strained you are more likely to be vigilant and suspicious, invest more effort in what you are doing, feel less comfortable and make fewer errors, but you also are less intuitive and less creative than usual." You are more creative when you are relaxed, when your conscious mind (System 2) is not exerting itself (cf. Carl Honore's `In Praise of Slow').
"Good mood, intuition, creativity, gullibility and increased reliance on System 1 form a cluster. At the other pole, sadness, vigilance, suspicion, an analytical approach and increased effort go together."
Whereas Malcolm Gladwell focused on the strength and successes of System 1 in his bestseller `Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking', Kahneman also points out the ways in which our intuition can lead us astray:
"Finding `causal' connections is part of understanding a story and is an automatic operation of System 1. All the (news) headlines do is satisfy our need for coherence: a large event is supposed to have consequences, and consequences needs `causes' to explain them. We have limited information about what happened on a day, and System 1 is adept at finding a coherent `causal' story that links the fragments of knowledge at its disposal." All we ever experience are effects, but we automatically project `causes' behind them, usually inaccurately.
"The psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote an essay `How Mental Systems Believe,' in which he developed a theory of believing and unbelieving that he traced to the 17th century philosopher Spinoza. Gilbert proposed that understanding must begin with an attempt to believe it: you must first know what the idea would mean if it were true. Only then can you decide whether or not to `unbelieve' it. Belief is an automatic operation of System 1, which involves the construction of the best possible interpretation of the situation. `Unbelieving' is an operation of System 2.
System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy. Indeed there is evidence that people are more likely to be influenced by empty persuasive messages, such as commercials, when they are tired and depleted.
The confirmatory bias of System 1 favours uncritical acceptance of suggestions and exaggerations of the likelihood of extreme and improbable events." (e.g. religious beliefs or the likelihood of violent crime).
"In `The Black Swan' Nassim Taleb introduced the notion of a `narrative fallacy' to describe how flawed stories of the past shape our views of the world and our expectations for the future. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen."
And "the sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the `halo effect' increases the weight of first impressions."
"In his penetrating book The Halo Effect, Philip Rosenzweig shows how the demand for illusory certainly is met in popular genres of business writing, consistently exaggerating the impact of leadership style. Imagine that business experts are asked to comment on the reputation of the CEO of a company. The CEO of a successful company is likely to be called flexible, methodical and decisive. Imagine that a year has passed and things have gone sour. The same executive is now described as confused, rigid, and authoritarian. Because of the halo effect, we get the causal relationship backward: we are prone to believe that the firm fails because its CEO is rigid, when the truth is that the CEO appears to be rigid because the firm is failing. This is how illusions of understanding are born."
And "an `anchoring effect' occurs when people consider a particular value for an unknown quantity before estimating that quantity: the estimates stay close to the number that people considered. If you are asked whether Gandhi was more than 114 years old when he died, you will come up with a much higher estimate of his age at death than you would if the anchoring question referred to death at 35. Read more ›