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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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4,3321091,142 (4.13)126
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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Daniel Kahneman is a psychology professor and the winner of a Nobel Prize in economics. In this book he delves into how the human mind works when we're evaluating situations, solving problems, and making decisions. In particular, he talks about two kinds of mental processing we employ. One, which he refers to as "System 1" (a phrase he emphasizes is simply a convenient label for a particular kind of thinking, not a physical thing that exists in your brain), works quickly, draws on associations between the problem before us and things we've seen before, simplifies complex problems to make them easier to handle, and produces results that just feel right. It's what we might like to call intuition. "System 2," on the other hand, proceeds slowly, logically, and analytically, for instance, when you're solving a complicated math problem. System 2 can be used to double-check on the intuitions provided by System 1, but it can also accept the conclusions System 1 feeds it and use those in its analysis. Or it can simply leave things to System 1 and never kick in at all.

Both systems are useful, even crucial, in their proper domains. Without System 2, we'd never pass calculus, and without System 1, we'd be like the proverbial centipede who couldn't walk because he couldn't keep track of what all his legs were doing. But relying on System 1 can lead us astray in all kinds of ways. And Kahneman shows us many of the ways it does that, as well as exploring the difference between real people and the idealized economists' model of human beings as perfectly rational agents invariably acting in their own best self-interest.

I thought most of this book was just really fantastic. I'd read a fair bit about this sort of topic before, and was a little afraid that it'd just hash over a lot of familiar ground for me, but, while I did get to be smug at having already developed the critical thinking skills not to fall for some of the trick questions designed to expose our irrationality, there was a lot here that I found really worthwhile and interesting, either because I was learning new things or because the already familiar concepts were just so wonderfully expressed.

I will say that there was one multi-chapter section of the book I felt slightly less satisfied with. Mostly, that involved a lot of examination of how people say they would respond to an offered gamble or deal, and whether their responses are rational or not. There was definitely some good stuff in these chapters, but I found them much less interesting, and somewhat harder to get through than the others. In part, that's probably because the way economics types approach these kinds of problems always kind of irritates me. Even when they're trying really hard, they always seem to me to fail to appreciate how real people feel about real money, treating it as some kind of contextless shiny thing that's just abstractly nice to have. It tends to leave me wanting to grab them by the lapels and say things like, "Of course the possibility of losing money that you already have feels more significant than the possibility of winning the same amount. People fear losing money for the same reason they fear losing blood. You have a limited amount of it, can only replenish it so fast, and you need that stuff to live." I mean, come on, guys.

Still, that may just be a personal quirk. Overall, it's an extremely valuable book, one that teaches some important, perhaps even utterly critical, lessons on the ways in which we can all be very, very wrong about things while being convinced we're completely, unquestionably right. Which is a perspective and a level of self-awareness that we desperately need more of in the world right now. I'd certainly like to force every politician to read it. ( )
2 vote bragan | Nov 9, 2016 |
The qualities of human nature described in Thinking, Fast and Slow are already known to all of us at some level. We are all taught in society to believe in the rational, thinking human being as distinct from his animal peers, yet as this book excellently details, there are plenty of ways in which our seemingly rational decisions can be bent and perverted by various forms of bias. Daniel Kahneman details these two seemingly incongruous facets of our nature as two 'distinct' halves: System 1 represents our autonomous, unthinking, reflex and subconscious reactions, whereas System 2 is that logical, calculating being we consider ourselves to be. Much of the relevant research covered in this volume was pioneered and conducted by Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky, to whom this volume is dedicated.

At root, the interplay between System 1 and System 2 rests upon the fact that we are naturally adapted to choose the path of least resistance, i.e. we make decisions which require the least amount of effort. Whilst this does not necessarily mean that we (or our System 2s) are not making the decisions, it does sometimes result in our System 2s acting merely as auditors of the information being passed on by System 1. If that information appears to fit the facts, it is taken at face value, unchanged and unedited. As a result, this 'quick thinking' leads to errors and biases of which we are almost entirely unaware.

As a summary of decades of research, the book deals with a lot of extremely interesting aspects of these decision-making processes. Each of these is handled in turn and alone, although many of them are linked and could in some ways represent different impressions of the same phenomenon. For example, an issue known as 'anchoring' is investigated, a truly staggering anomaly in which a decision can be influenced by an entirely unrelated and random suggestion placed before us: Kahneman provides us with the example of a set of experienced judges whose sentencing decisions were seen to be tilted by the results of a dice roll.

There is a lot of ground to summarise within these pages, and Kahneman does an excellent job of presenting some fairly mundane experimental data in a way in which it becomes clear to the layman, how insightful and potent the results truly are. The first half of the book in particular is an extremely fluid read, the experimental data plays second fiddle to clear evaluations of both experiments and their results. Whilst some aspects are dealt with purely theoretically, others are highlighted in terms of their effect on certain people in society, and Kahneman makes no bones about pointing out the absurd decisions of stock brokers, businessmen, or even his own psychology students. Another nice feature of the book is that many of the chapters start with a little test which readers themselves can do, becoming a part of the experiments, easily the best way to highlight precisely how 'un-rational' our minds can truly function.

The overarching irony of this book is that it seems to want to prove one of the theories explored between its very covers, that of our 'experiencing' and 'remembering' selves. The evidence suggests that even if the vast majority of an experience was born with enjoyment, if the end was tainted, our memory of the positive experience will be overridden by the negative. Unfortunately, this book is guilty of the very same: it opens beautifully with some lucid and unhampered prose, plenty of example tests and real world extrapolations, occasional anecdotes and witty asides. Yet the latter half of the book feels like it was written by a different Kahneman or for a different reader; it is turgid, almost lethargic, sticky with academic language, no longer peppered with as many human insights, and devoid of example tests for the reader to take part in.

Despite this impression of it being a book of two halves, it is nevertheless highly recommendable to anyone with even a passing interest in psychology or the human mind. One needn't take away any lessons from the book's insights, but it would still be nice to think that by giving this book five stars, I'm successfully overcoming the biassed suggestions of System 1 and my 'remembering self', and basing my judgement on the rational observations of System 2 and my 'experiencing self'. Or perhaps I'm being swayed by some anchoring I'm still unaware of... ( )
  Fips | Oct 30, 2016 |
Opportunity cost is one of the key concepts of economics; doing this means you can't do that at the same time, for example. The early part of Thinking, Fast and Slow is about how the brain economizes on the time it spends making decisions. We could engage what Kahneman calls 'System 2', our reasoning framework, for each and every decision, but this would be hugely expensive in terms of opportunity costs. All that time we spent thinking we would not spending just getting on with things. So, in most cases, our brain allocates decision making to 'System 1', our more intuitive decision making system, our gut, which acts on a set of short cuts, heuristics. In this way, the brain has evolved to economize on thinking time.

This can lead to what Kahneman calls 'mistakes' and the rational 'homo economicus' takes yet another kicking here. But his endorsement of 'nudge' policies, designed to move people towards the 'right' decisions, pre-supposes that the people doing the nudging know what these 'right' answers are. This knowledge, of course, has to be discovered.

That said, the incorporation of prospect theory into microeconomics in place of expected utility theory looks to be a growing field of research in the future. ( )
  JohnPhelan | Oct 4, 2016 |
I was prompted to read this for the sole reason that it gets referenced in so many other books. It lived up to the expectation. Kahneman was a pioneer in the space where human psychology confounds traditional economic theory. Now he's a venerable storyteller about that same space. The main point of the book is that the human mind uses two systems of thinking. One is fast, instinctual, and automatic. The other is slow, logical, and conceptual. Much of our behavior and later evaluation of it can be described by how those two systems are used under varying amounts of time pressure. The book is comprised of thirty-eight short chapters covering key concepts like regression to the mean, illusions of validity, and the importance of framing when evaluating options. I found his coverage of prospect theory especially complete and understandable compared to other descriptions I've encountered. ( )
  jpsnow | Oct 1, 2016 |
A must-read for everyone who wants to make wise decisions!
Especially, if decision-making is your job. ( )
  mantvius | Aug 29, 2016 |
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"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 editionscalculated
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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