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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Daniel Kahneman

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3,653931,445 (4.14)119
Title:Thinking, Fast and Slow
Authors:Daniel Kahneman
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2011), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 512 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:cognitive psychology, human decision-making, rationality

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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)


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Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
A wonderful read that gives a peek into the way people think and make decisions.

The book describes the two ways the mind can work: a "system 1" that reacts automatically, quickly, and with no control (e.g. reading text, solving 2 2) and a "system 2" that is slower, more methodical, and requires effort (e.g. solving a logic puzzle, calculating 27*34). We assume that we make most decisions via system 2, but the reality is that we're all lazy, and rely on system 1 far more often. This isn't always bad - in fact, system 1 usually does just fine - but there are many cases where we can go astray.

These include heuristics and biases that everyone should be aware of: anchoring effects, availability bias, substitution, loss aversion, framing, and sunk cost fallacy.

Some great quotes:

“A reliable way of making people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”

“This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

“Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

“We marvel at the story of the firefighter who has a sudden urge to escape a burning house just before it collapses, because the firefighter knows the danger intuitively, “without knowing how he knows.” However, we also do not know how we immediately know that a person we see as we enter a room is our friend Peter.”

“we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” ( )
  brikis98 | Nov 11, 2015 |

Like most of the other readers, I found this slow going and a bit tedious to get through. But each description of yet another psychological experiment was fascinating in itself. And I was impressed at at the scope of it all, by the time I got to the end. ( )
  varske | Oct 25, 2015 |
Fascinating and frustrating, throws the baby out with the bath water

Kahneman begins with a distinction between System 1, the automatic and seemingly effortless functions of the mind (which basically conflates perception, emotion, and the subconscious), and System 2, the effortful, volitionally controlled "executive" functions of conscious awareness. He then discusses how the ways in which they typically operate and interact can lead to a variety of predictable effects and systematic biases, such as priming, confirmation bias, the halo effect, etc. In much of this discussion he takes the contents of System 1 as the given, neglecting the fact that what gets automatized is what's done repeatedly by System 2 (though he does pay some attention to this fact later in the book in his discussion of "intuition", which is reliable precisely when based on lots of practice with good feedback in predictable, e.g. high validity, situations).

Next he follows Cass Sunstein's distinction between "econs" (basically theoretically rational agents) and "humans" (basically a descriptive rather than prescriptive account of how people actually make economic decisions), arguing that a rational agent model of economic theory is hopelessly flawed and his brand of behavioral economics is more accurate and useful. While it's true that a model of human action as inherently rational is inadequate, Kahneman swings to the other extreme and seems to delight in trying to show that it is inherently IRrational (even though he half-heartedly denies this toward the end of the book, it's pretty clear where he stands).

Finally he draws a third distinction between the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self", trying to show that people's later evaluations by their remembering self aren't consistent with their actual experience. Again, there's some very interesting material here, such as how the remembering self's tendency to focus not on the sum total of an experience but on particular moments, especially the peak and the ending, explains the narrative structure of our art forms. But Kahneman neglects that people can legitimately focus on certain aspects of their experience to the detriment or exclusion of others, and this is not at all necessarily irrational or inconsistent.

He also notes that even in measures of the well-being of the experiencing self, there is an unequal distribution with some people experiencing life as almost entirely positive while for others it's largely negative, but doesn't know what to make of this and tentatively attributes it to the effects of poverty, disease, etc. But the real explanation is implicit in (at least a charitable interpretation of) his theory: it's largely a matter of what you choose to focus on, or to put it in his terminology how you use your System 2 (which will in turn improve your System 1 over time, which Kahneman sometimes seems to recognize but at others to deny). He even goes on to discuss a bit later how victims of debilitating accidents or disease are only made unhappy by it as long as their "remembering self" dwells on it (and as someone who's been dealing with a chronic illness for a decade and had to learn to appreciate all the good in life, I should know!).

The main theme I took away from the book is that most of the errors to which people are prone are caused by failing to take the full context into account, or as Kahneman puts it, What You See Is All There Is. This comes up again and again in his discussions of overconfidence, framing effects, base rate effects, substitution (which is basically being asked for signal and answering with noise), etc. Whether you want to think of this as differentiating and integrating, zooming in and out, or in Kahneman's terms of narrow vs. broad framing or taking an "inside" vs. (a more statistical) "outside" view of a situation, it all comes down to the same thing, though again he moves from rightfully pointing out the problems of focusing too narrowly on a particular case to the opposite extreme of only considering the broader context and ignoring the particular details of a given case. This leads him to some disastrous policy recommendations such as relying exclusively on algorithms to make vital decisions in, e.g., healthcare, which could improve outcomes for many people with fairly common or straightforward problems but would result in "cookie cutter" medicine that would pretty much screw patients like me. I appreciated his discussion of those who reject the use of such algorithms as "artificial", but again he's rejected one side of a false dichotomy and swung to the other.

But the book is full of lots of practical tips as well, such as the use of such formulas to maximize predictive validity (e.g. the Apgar score, for more on which read Atul Gawande's Better), how to conduct interviews so as to make better hiring decisions, use reference class forecasting to avoid (or at least mitigate) the planning fallacy, use a pre-mortem to overcome the suppression of doubts and overconfidence, see through the endowment effect and avoid committing the sunk cost fallacy, and much, much more, which alone makes it worth reading.

This is a fascinating, and frustrating, book. Kahneman provides a wealth of information, but his explanatory framework is problematic and leads him to draw many blatantly wrong conclusions, even falling into some of the specific wrong thinking methods he discusses throughout the book (notably theory-induced blindness)! That said, the careful reader can glean substantial value from it.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R24COWZBPFJV1F ( )
  AshRyan | Aug 31, 2015 |
There are many thoughtful and informative reviews already so just a few comments. This took a long time to read due to various interruptions. The first was my husband noticing the title of my public library copy and starting it. A few days later he ordered his own copy but continued reading mine until the new one arrived. Then I did no serious reading for a while because of Real Life stuff. However, I recently picked it up again and just finished reading it. Kahneman is very readable and gives plenty of examples of his topics, including biases in our thinking, how we actually make decisions, our experiencing shelves, and our remembering shelves. To get the most from this book would, I believe, require more than one reading, but it does give the reader a lot to consider even on the first reading.
  hailelib | Aug 8, 2015 |
Very good. Surely provides some nice background to Shakespeare's "What a piece of work is a man". ( )
  StanleyPhang | Jul 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
"It is an astonishingly rich book: lucid, profound, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching..."
added by melmore | editNew York Times, Jim Holt (Nov 25, 2011)
Thinking, Fast and Slow is nonetheless rife with lessons on how to overcome bias in daily life.

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Kahnemanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Egan, PatrickReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eivind LilleskjæretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gunnar NyquistTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Every author, I suppose, has in mind a setting in which readers of his or her work could benefit from having read it.
extreme outcomes (both high and low) are more likely to be found in small than in large samples. This explanation is not causal. The small population of a county neither causes nor prevents cancer; it merely allows the incidence of cancer to be much higher (or much lower) than it is in the larger population. The deeper truth is that there is nothing to explain. The incidence of cancer is not truly lower or higher than normal in a county with a small population, it just appears to be so in a particular year because of an accident of sampling. If we repeat the analysis next year, we will observe the same general pattern of extreme results in the small samples, but the counties where cancer was common last year will not necessarily have a high incidence this year. If this is the case, the differences between dense and rural counties do not really count as facts: they are what scientists call artifacts, observations that are produced entirely by some aspect of the method of research - in this case, by differences in sample size. p 111
Even now, you must exert some mental effort to see that the following two statements mean exactly the same thing: Large samples are more precise than small samples. Small samples yield extreme results more often than large samples do. p 111
When experts and the public disagree on their priorities, [Paul Slovic] says, 'Each side must respect the insights and intelligence of the other.' p 140
You can also take precautions that will inoculate you against regret. Perhaps the most useful is to b explicit about the anticipation of regret. If you can remember when things go badly that you considered the possibility of regret carefully before deciding, you are likely to experience less of it. You should also know that regret and hindsight bias will come together, so anything you can do to preclude hindsight is likely to be helpful. My personal hindsight-avoiding policy is to be either very thorough or completely casual when making a decision with long-term consequences. Hindsight is worse when you think a little, just enough to tell yourself later, 'I almost made a better choice.'     Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues provocatively claim that people generally anticipate more regret than they will actually experience, because they underestimate the efficacy of the psychological defenses they will deploy - which they label the 'psychological immune system.' Their recommendation is that you should not put too much weight on regret; even if you have some, it will hurt less than you now think.p 352
Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound. p 367
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Le système 1 est rapide , intuitif et émotionel ;le système 2 est plus lent , plus réfléchi , plus controléet plus logique .Fruit d toute une vie de recherche ''Système 1/Système 2" dessine une théorie brillante ,qui offer des prolongements pratiques immédiats dans la vie quotidienne et professionnelle.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374275637, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: Drawing on decades of research in psychology that resulted in a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Daniel Kahneman takes readers on an exploration of what influences thought example by example, sometimes with unlikely word pairs like "vomit and banana." System 1 and System 2, the fast and slow types of thinking, become characters that illustrate the psychology behind things we think we understand but really don't, such as intuition. Kahneman's transparent and careful treatment of his subject has the potential to change how we think, not just about thinking, but about how we live our lives. Thinking, Fast and Slow gives deep--and sometimes frightening--insight about what goes on inside our heads: the psychological basis for reactions, judgments, recognition, choices, conclusions, and much more.  --JoVon Sotak

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:22 -0400)

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Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities and also the faults and biases of fast thinking, and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on peoples' thoughts and choices.

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