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Thinking, Fast and Slow Paperback – April 2 2013
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Two systems drive the way we think and make choices, Daniel Kahneman explains: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Examining how both systems function within the mind, Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities as well as the biases of fast thinking and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and our choices. Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, he shows where we can trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking, contrasting the two-system view of the mind with the standard model of the rational economic agent.
Kahneman's singularly influential work has transformed cognitive psychology and launched the new fields of behavioral economics and happiness studies. In this path-breaking book, Kahneman shows how the mind works, and offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and personal lives--and how we can guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.
"Absorbingly articulate and infinitely intelligent . . . [Thinking, Fast and Slow] will forever change the way you think about thinking."
About the Author
- Publisher : Anchor Canada (April 2 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385676530
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385676533
- Item weight : 481 g
- Dimensions : 14.99 x 2.54 x 22.86 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in Canada on March 13, 2019
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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. If you consider how much you should pay for a house, you will be influenced by the asking price. The same house will appear more valuable if its listing price is high than if it is low, even if you are determined to resist the influence of this number."
"The famed psychologist Robert Zajonc dedicated much of his career to the study of the link between the repetition of an arbitrary stimulus and the mild affection that people eventually have for it. This `mere exposure effect' does not depend on the conscious experience of familiarity. In fact, the effect does not depend on consciousness at all: it occurs even when repeated words or pictures are shown so quickly that the observers never become aware of having seen them. They still end up liking the words or pictures that are presented more frequently. System 1 responds to impressions of events of which System 2 is unaware. Indeed, the mere exposure effect is actually stronger for stimuli that the individual never consciously sees."
"The dominance of conclusions over `arguments' is most pronounced where emotions are involved. The psychologist Paul Slovic has proposed an `affect heuristic' in which people let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world. In the context of attitudes, System 2 is more of an apologist for the emotions of System 1 than a critic of those emotions - an endorser rather than an enforcer. Its search for information and arguments is mostly constrained to information that is consistent with existing beliefs, not with an intention to examine them." (cf. Dr. Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell).
"One of the basic characteristics of System 1 is that it re-presents categories as norms and prototypical exemplars. This is how we think of horses, refrigerators, and New York police officers; we hold in memory a re-presentation of one or more `normal' members of each of these categories. When the categories are social, these re-presentations are called stereotypes. Some stereotypes are perniciously wrong, but the psychological facts cannot be avoided: stereotypes, both correct and false, are how we think of categories."
"Studies of priming effects have yielded discoveries that threaten our self-image as conscious and autonomous authors of our judgments and our choices (cf. Dr. Gerald Zaltman's How Customers Think). Our vote should not be affected by the location of the polling station, for example, but it is. We now know that the effects of priming can reach into every corner of our lives.
The idea of money primes individualism: a reluctance to be involved with others, to depend on others, or to accept demands from others. Living in a culture that surrounds us with reminders of money may shape our behaviour and our attitudes in ways that we do not know about and of which we may not be proud. Some cultures provide frequent reminders of respect, others constantly remind their members of God, and some societies prime obedience by large images of Dear Leader. The feeling that `Big Brother is Watching' leads to a reduction in spontaneous thought and independent action. Reminding people of their mortality increases the appeal of authoritarian ideas." What Dr. George Lakoff calls the `Strict Father' model.
Thinking Fast and Slow is a brilliant treatise that goes far beyond Malcolm Gladwell's `Blink'. It will change the way you see human nature. Five stars!
His world seems rather insular, as he interacts mainly with academics like himself, his students, or stockbrokers. He loves to show how trained professionals make irrational choices in their field of expertise. It would be nice to get more insight about the irrational choices the rest of us make. Although he is careful to use gender inclusive language, one gets the impression he has never met an actual woman. For whatever reason, women seem to use their intuitive faculties differently, and one might think that difference would be worth exploring.
Lets Answer an Easier Question Instead
One interesting fallacy he identifies is the tendency to answer a question by substituting an easier question. While we think of politicians doing this deliberately, we do it all the time unconsciously. A typical question (in this book) would be “Should I buy stock in Mercedes Benz?” which gets replaced with “Do I like their cars?” Of course, the quality of the cars is already taken into account in the stock price, which may be overvalued because too many people like the name.
Substituting an easier question seems to be the theme of the psychological experiments the book is largely based on. It is so much easier to ask questions about money than investigate how beliefs form and how they affect the thinking process.
Practicing What He Preaches
The writing style is explicitly based on the findings presented in the book. He chooses to describe the parts of our mind as active agents because we can process that better than abstract properties. He tells us the name “System 1” was chosen because it takes less space in working memory than something like “automatic system”. He does not tell us why the more usual term “unconscious” was not chosen, but I assume he is avoiding any association with Freud. Fine, but why not use the even simpler terms “Fast” and “Slow”, as in the title?
Dissecting Our Lazy Two-Part Brain
The author presents a two part model for our thinking. The automatic “System 1” (I will use his terms in this review) receives information from our senses, quickly processes them according to its own rules, then passes the results to the rational “System 2” for evaluation. But reasoning is hard work, so if we are lazy, or our minds are overloaded, we simply accept the conclusions of the automatic system without questioning them. System 1 performs many essential functions (such as reading this) and does them very well. But its limitations can lead us into irrational decisions.
System 1 makes its decisions using that the author calls “activated memory”, which is loaded mainly from recent experiences. There are plenty of experiments that show how priming, essentially putting ideas into your head just before the decision, can strongly affect the outcome in surprising ways.
But this concept is not fully developed. For example, his chapter on how experts successfully use intuition shows that System 1 has access to all of our memory, not just the activated part. One of his favorite phrases is “What You See is All There Is”, but it seems you can see everything. This idea is a little too simple.
The set of ideas we work with must also determined by our fundamental beliefs, such as emotional and religious beliefs, our concepts of morality, and our sense of belonging to a group. These all act to filter what will get into our activated memory. While the book touches on these issues in various places, it does not connect them to the concept of activated memory.
A Glimpse into the Potential of Neurobiology
Neurobiology is mentioned a few times in the last part of the book. The idea is that certain modes of brain activity “light up” certain parts of the brain, so one can gain insight into how a problem is being solved. As System 1 operates unconsciously, this technique can help identify which parts of the brain are making the decision. For example, the brain region associated with emotions (the amygdala) was shown to be active when making what looked like simple financial decisions.
Then why is this technique not used more often in the book? Is there even any physical way to detect the difference between System 1 and System 2? This would seem to be a good way to test theories of activated memory, and help develop it into a coherent concept.
The Experiencing and Remembering Self
The book ends with a dramatic switch from money to philosophical questions of wellbeing and who is the self. Are we the one who experiences in the present moment, or the one who remembers what happened in the past? While this gets reduced to a simple experiment, it is instructive. A group of people experienced two events: 60 seconds of pain, and 60 seconds of the same pain followed by 30 seconds of less pain. People chose to repeat the second experience. Are they crazy? It seems so reading it in plain text. But their memory of experiencing the event is dominated by the relief of the last 30 seconds, so they interpret that as the better experience. We tend to remember peak events, and what came last. Duration is harder to recall.
It works the same way on the positive side. A single exciting event is remembered more than a few weeks of pleasant vacation. So what does it mean to experience a pleasant day on the beach that will later be forgotten? While observational data will not solve a philosophical problem, it can lead us to think about it differently.
Is Teaching Psychology a Waste of Time?
Not only is this question actually asked in the book, the answer appears to be no. What he means is that the students who learned about fallacies of judgment did not apply the lessons to themselves. One of those lessons should have been that we often fail to realize that the characteristics of a group we belong to might also apply to ourselves.
He should not expect to change behavior by teaching the usual abstract academic course. Maybe he needs to reread his own book. He tells us that the intuition in System 1 can be trained for new tasks. If the goal is to change behavior, then a training course designed to reprogram that intuition is required.
I don’t think the book is a waste of time. One of its many insights is that our System 1 must believe any information it receives in order to parse it, before sending it to System 2 for evaluation. It works that way when I read a book such as this one. I first believe what I read, then later all the problems and limitations become evident. Writing a review helps reveal those problems, which makes it overly critical of this worthwhile book.
Although the scope is mainly limited to how our elites make financial decisions, the lessons in this book can be extended to understand how ordinary people think and behave the way they do. It is worth remembering that the many logical errors the people commonly make occur before the reasoning process is invoked. It is also worth remembering that this applies to me as well. The many insights make this book worth four stars, even if I need to do a lot more work on my own to make the concepts useful.
Top reviews from other countries
Why do we marry people just because they're good in bed?
Why do investors snatch small profits from winning investments whilst allowing large losses to build up in bad investments?
Why do parents deny their children life saving vaccinations for fear of unproven risks?
Why do we think a bird in the hand is worth two in a bush?
On the whole humans are incredibly good at making bad decisions because they allow emotions and moral values to prevail over good sense and simple mathematical calculation. We make snap decisions based on our intuition (fast thinking) and often believe our intuition is superior to logic (slow thinking). For example, President Trump recently said he preferred to listen to his 'gut' than his advisors.
Kahneman examines the reasons why we make bad decisions and indicates ways in which we might make better decisions - even if the better decisions make us feel uncomfortable because they are counterintuitive.
My only problem with this book is that it is so laborious in places that I almost lost interest. Sometimes Kahneman goes on and on about a proposition that has (at least for me) zero interest. If he asks 'How much would you pay for a bowl of roses valued at $59?' I don't have an answer because I'm simply not interested and I don't want to know how much anyone else would pay, or why they would or wouldn't pay it. Perhaps it's just me, but I found some of the propositions too complex to bother with. But to be fair there were some chapters that had me spellbound - maybe because they touched on areas where I make bad decisions.
Overall, this is an important book but spoiled by too much dense argument and irrelevant illustration. It could have contained all the salient points and been reduced to half the length without any dilution of the message.
Kahneman’s thesis breaks our decision-making systems into two pieces, System 1 and System 2, which are the respective “fast” and “slow” of the title. System 1 provides intuitive judgements based on stimulus we might not even be conscious of receiving; it’s the snap signals that we might not even know we are acting upon. System 2 is the more contemplative, cognitively taxing counterpart that we engage for serious mental exertion. Though often oppositional in the types of decisions they produce, Kahneman is keen to emphasize that it’s not about System 1 versus System 2. Instead, he’s out to educate us about how the interplay between these systems causes us to make decisions that aren’t always rational or sensible given the statistics and evidence at hand.
Kahneman takes us through an exhaustive tour of biases and fallacies people are prone to making. He talks about the halo effect, affection bias, confirmation bias, and even regression to the mean. As a mathematician, I liked his angle on probability and statistics; as a logician, I appreciated his brief segues into the logical aspects of our contradictory decision-making processes. Lest I give the impression Kahneman gets too technical, however, I should emphasize that, despite its length, Thinking, Fast and Slow remains aggressively accessible. There are a few points where, if you don’t have a basic grasp of probability (and if Kahneman demonstrates anything, it’s that most people don’t), then you might feel talked over (or maybe it’s those less-than-infrequent, casual mentions of “and later I won a Nobel Prize”). But this book isn’t so much about science as it is about people.
There are two other things I really appreciated about this book, both of which are related to psychology. I’m a fairly easygoing person, and I don’t always like to make waves, but sometimes I like to make some trouble and argue with some of my friends about whether psychology is a science. The problem for psychology is that it’s actually a rather broad term for a series of overlapping fields of investigation into human behaviour. On one end of this continuum, you have Freud and Jung and the various psychoanalysts who, let’s face it, are one step up from astrologers and palm-readers. On the other end, you have the cutting-edge cognitive psychology informed by the neuroscience of MRIs, split-brain studies, and rat research. So claiming that psychology is or isn’t a science is a little simplistic, and I’m willing to grant that there are areas within psychology that are science. For what it’s worth, Kahneman went a long way to reinforcing this: it’s clear he and his collaborators have done decades of extensive research. (Now, yes, it’s social science, but I won’t get into that particular snobbery today.)
The other thing I liked about Thinking, Fast and Slow is its failure to mention evolutionary psychology. Once in a while, Kahneman alludes to System 1’s behaviour being the result of evolutionary adaptation—and that’s fine, because it is true, almost tautologically so. But he never quite delves into speculation about why such behaviour evolved, and I appreciate this. There’s a difference between identifying something as an adaptation and determining why it’s an adaptation, and I’m not a fan of evolutionary psychologists’ attempts to reduce everything to the trauma of trading trees for bipedalism … I’m willing to admit I have an ape brain, but culture must count for something, hmm?
I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that this book reaffirms my supercilious disregard for economics. According to Kahneman, stock brokers and investors have no idea what they are doing—and some of them know this, but most of them don’t. Economists are, for the most part, highly-trained, but they seem bent upon sustaining this theoretical fantasy land in which humans are rational creatures. Aristotle aside, the data seem to say it isn’t so. I occasionally try my hand at reading books about the economy, just so I can say I did, but they usually end up going over my head. I’m a mathematician and I don’t get numbers—but at least I’m not the only one.
So Thinking, Fast and Slow is genuinely interesting. I learned a lot from it. I would rate it higher, but I was starting to flag as I approached the finish line. Truth be told, I skipped the two articles Kahneman includes at the end that were the original publications about the theories he explains in the book. I’m sure they are fascinating for someone with more stamina, but at that point I just wanted to be done. That’s never good: one of the responsibilities of a non-fiction author is to know how to pace a book and keep its length appropriate. Too short and the book is unsatisfying—too long, and maybe it’s more so. And I think this flaw is entirely avoidable; it’s a result of Kahneman’s tendency to reiterate, to circle back around to the same discussions over and over again. He spends an entire chapter on prospect theory, then a few chapters later he’s telling us about its genesis all over again, just from a slightly different angle. Like that party guest, Kahneman is full of interesting stories, but after telling one after another for such a long period of time, it starts sounding like white noise. And he ate all those little cocktail snacks too.
I inevitably ended up comparing Thinking, Fast and Slow to How We Decide, a much slimmer volume along much the same lines as this one. Whereas Lehrer’s focus is on the neurology behind decision-making, Kahneman is more interested in psychology. Both books boil down to we suck at automatic decision-making when statistics are involved; therefore, we behave less rationally than we believe we do. Lehrer explains why things go wrong, and Kahneman categorizes all the different way things go wrong. In many ways the books are complementary, and if this is an area of interest for you, I’ll recommend them both. For the casual reader, however, Thinking, Fast and Slow is a rather dense meal. By all means, give it a try, but take it slow.
It's not an easy book to read so not one for the beach, but push through and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Pick up the book and you see there are well over 400 pages using a very small type.
Recently I've tried to engage with the book a couple of times but, as a reader from a non academic background, I find it impossible as it is dull to read and repeats to many of the details.
Clearly a lot of people think this book is great but maybe they are coming at it from the viewpoint of an academic study.
I was interested to read that the audio version is much more palatable so I may come back to that at some point in the future.