Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Book Review by Daniel R. Murphy

Title and Author:  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Synopsis of Content:

A thorough exploration of what is currently known about how the human brain functions and how it drives human behavior. Based on many years of research our thinking abilities are divided into two modes: Fast and Slow, or System 1 and System 2.

System 1 operates quickly. It is also automatic, it does not require or permit reflection and protracted thought process. It functions without our even being aware of it, for the most part. System 1 is a pattern recognizer. It quickly recognizes a known pattern. For example, if I say “red, white and…” your System 1 function will instantly think “blue” as the next word, at least it will if you are American.

System 2 operates more slowly. It allocates attention to effortful mental activity, including complex calculations. If I ask you to multiply 3658 x 5.369 you will use System 2. If I ask you to create a business plan you will use System 2.

There are mental functions that System 1 does very well and some it does very poorly and some it does not do at all and the same can be said for System 2.

Because these two systems operate so differently they can have both positive and negative consequences. If you are confronted by a threat you can react quickly to defend yourself or seek safety. You need not use System 2 and contemplate all the possible options available to you – you can act swiftly. When we lived primarily in nature hunting and surviving predators this system was essential but even today it serves us well.

Consider how you drive a car. How often have you driven some distance, lost in thought about something, and not even being aware of all the actions you are taking to properly drive the car? System 1 drives the car while System 2 engages in reflective thought.

As good as System 1 is at driving and escaping saber tooth tigers it does not do so well in evaluating new and complex problems. It leads us to make assumptions (some valid and some very mistaken) and to make decisions based on those often invalid assumptions. System 1 limits our tendency to consider new ideas and question old ones.

Once we understand how the two systems work we can intentionally invoke System 2 where we need it.

What I found useful about this book:

Life is full of decision making. This book helps us understand how we make decisions and how to make them more accurately and effectively. We can understand how we make invalid assumptions and decisions. We can learn to be more accurate in our thinking when we are aware of how these two systems work.

Readability/Writing Quality:

This book is written by a scientist. Though it is aimed at a general audience it is rather dense. It requires some intense mental effort to understand, or as the author would say, it requires System 2 thinking. While it can be a bit challenging to get through the book it also conveys a great deal of information and the journey is worth the effort.

Notes on Author:

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University.

Other Books by the Author:

International Differences in Well-Being
Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment
Choices, Values and Frames
Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology
Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases
Attention and Effort

Three Great Ideas You Can Use:

  1. It is important to understand and recognize that we think in more than one way and that on a very basic level that thinking can be divided between a fast and slow mode. Fast thinking allows us to survive and to learn skills and practice them without undue thought. Slow thinking allows to create, invent, understand and calculate.
  2. Intuition, which can serve us well in many ways, also serves us poorly in many others and should be looked upon with skepticism. It is a product of our fast thinking system which largely functions without verification and accuracy.
  3. To obtain the most from our slow thinking capacity we must put forth significant effort. We must question all assumptions and resist the easy and often erroneous conclusions that the fast thinking mind jumps to. Bearing this in mind can make us more accurate and successful in our thinking.

Publication Information:
Title and Author: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Copyright holder: © 2011 by Daniel Kahneman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Book of the month for June 2015.

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Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.