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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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Thinking, Fast and Slow (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Daniel Kahneman

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2,637None2,260 (4.22)75
hugh_ashton's review
I'm not going to give this 5 stars, though the subject matter probably deserves them. The problem causing the missing star is the style of the book; is this a hard-core scientific work, or a popular science book? It's not clear to me whether Kahneman (or his editor) had made up his mind on this.

Having said which – the book is extremely well organized, and the chapters build on each other in a coherent logical fashion (what else would you expect from a book about the power of rationality in decision-making?). Many of the conclusions are new to me, but even some of the new ones made me go "Of course! That's the way it is!", which doesn't make it true, of course, but does mean that the explanation has been convincing.

A book to re-read, probably taking notes next time, and to learn from. Interestingly enough, I found a lot of cross-references to another book I am reading alongside this (The Myth of the Rational Market). There is much here about decision-making in investment strategies that has relevance. ( )
  hugh_ashton | Dec 17, 2011 |
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I liked most of this book. The author's style of presentation, where he let's readers test their intuitive responses before discussing the matter in more detail, is very enlightening. I learned a lot especially from part II: Heuristics and biases. However, I think the final parts IV and V of this book were superfluous. By cutting them out the book could have been trimmed from 400 to 250 pages without any significant losses. The author takes great pleasure in recounting how "Amos and I once conducted an experiment where we did this and that...", but he keeps going far too long. In parts IV and V the experiments become decreasingly meaningful and the main argument becomes diluted as the author fails to connect them to the earlier parts of the book. The end was exasperating, but the early parts of the book still constitute the most interesting psychological analysis that I've read to date.
  thcson | Mar 26, 2014 |
If you walk in the woods at night and see a line across the path, might it be a snake? Luckily your System 1 thought process warns you of danger and you stop. Then System 2 takes over, analyses the situation and realizes the line is just a stick. System 1 is fast, and system 2 is slow. And the problem arises when we imagine our system 1 cnoclusion doesn’t need any further thought.

Optical illusions are familiar illustrations of fast and slow thinking. When we’ve been fooled before, we recognize the illusion and immediately jump to looking with system 2. But logical illusions, emotional illusions and cultural illusions can leave us existing in a world that’s not quite as solid and real as we imagine.

Are law courts fair? Are inoculations safe? Is the stock market as risky as the gambling table? And what do advertising and politics have in common? The examples of Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, are simple and easy to understand but pack an intriguing punch. Each could be “framed” with a list of excuses, explaining away the proof. But together they form a convincing argument for conscious thought, for “reframing” the data on which we make decisions, and for practicing logical thinking.

We’d be embarrassed to be fooled by a five-year-old’s optical illusion. We should probably be equally embarrassed to be fooled by our lazy thought processes, but this book offers a chance to catch our errors before they grow. I enjoyed the read—it’s long and fairly dense, but it tells the human story of an investigator, the scientific story of hypothesis and experiment, and the economical story of illogic’s consequences.

Disclosure: We read it for our book group. Some of us were impressed, others less so. But we didn’t divide along subject lines. There were artists and scientists in both camps. I’d recommend you try it for yourself. ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Mar 5, 2014 |
So Thinking Fast and Slow is not my typical sort of popular science. In fact if it weren't for the great reviews it got on CR and all the hype after its publication, I'd probably would've passed on this one. I'm glad I didn't, but I still found this book to be outside of my wheelhouse. There is a lot of tremendous insights into decision making and real world economic theory to be gleaned from these pages. (I have more highlights from this book than any other on my Kindle) The first two parts of the book a fascinating psychology. There is just so much to think about from these chapters alone to make a very good book. However, the latter half of part 3 when Kahneman begins to delve more into our decision making on a more economical level is where I began to think his conclusions were a bit too simple. While luck is an important factor in outcomes Kahneman's examples and evidence when put under the microscope don't really support his conclusions that blind luck is just as good or superior to experts. It was just to neat to be believed and from what I've found the relationship of randomness in our lives is profoundly more complicated. And part 4 while initially very interesting became very repetitive. I guess there is only so much you can do with abstract economic theory before it runs out of steam.

What I really respect about Thinking Fast and Slow is that Kahneman doesn't shy away from the science. The science is upfront and the story is secondary. This is something Gladwell and the like should take note of. There are no easy conclusions here, no big take away you can sell to others. Instead it is series of logical conclusions that build upon the whole to form a theory. This isn't a self improvement book disguised as science. ( )
1 vote stretch | Feb 2, 2014 |
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes in this book his many years of research into decision-making and behavioral economics. He draws a distinction between System 1 and System 2 thinking. There are many interesting insights to guide our own decision-making in this book. ( )
  proflinton | Jan 30, 2014 |
Thought-provoking, and makes me look at my own habits of thought more carefully -- did I make that decision with System 1 or System 2, and was that appropriate? ( )
  castiron | Jan 17, 2014 |
Powerful & important reading. ( )
  MelissaZD | Jan 1, 2014 |
Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics, and this book carefully analyses studies involving human decision-making.

While the conclusions are more "bad news" for the Austrian/Chicago school of economics, and the libertarian model is destroyed by the facts presented here [411 ff], the book is far from ideological in presentation. The author claims to cringe when his work is credited with the demonstration that human choices are irrational, when in fact their research only showed that Humans are not well described by the libertarian "rational-agent" model. That model is the foundation for libertarian public policy, it is theoretical and wrong. In fact, the admiration for the myth of market "efficiency" in allocating goods is wrong. The title and drift of Milton Friedman's book, "Free to Choose", is shown to be unsupportable.

Freedom is never "free", the chooser is rarely informed, and society needs protection from predators who exploit weakness. The data supports what is called "libertarian paternalism" by the economist Richard Thaler and the jurist Cass Sunstein in their 2008 book, "Nudge". The flagship example of their behavioral policy is "Save More Tomorrow", sponsored by the US Congress in a coalition between liberals and conservatives. This is the policy now largely characterizing the Obama Administration. [414] Obama appointed Sunstein to serve as administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, described in the 2010 Report of the Office of Management and Budget.

Humans do not make rational or good decisions without help. Informed and unintrusive regulations and standards, with enforcement against piratical assaults, can provide the help that is needed to maintain a free market. ( )
  keylawk | Dec 25, 2013 |
The beginning was great, but then the author got so into disproving this one theory that he went on and on and I gave up on the book.
  heike6 | Oct 24, 2013 |
No surprise that h. Sapiens is subject to emotionally driven prejudice, snap judgement and leaping to biassed conclusions, Or that rationality is hard work, and not always present when we imagine it is. The striking thing in this book is the detail of how all this works, the trivial factors that can influence us, and the well- researched evidence that backs it. Example of the trivial: opinions change not only when we are in a good or bad mood, but that the mood can be simulated by holding a pencil in the teeth (smile! Go for it!) or just frowning (misery! Work it out cautiously!). Interesting too that we are more rational/logical when worried, we take more precautions and think, but not when tired (rational "system 2" is fundamentally lazy; how experts also get it wrong (overconfidence), but nonetheless expertise can be learned and give snap judgements that are valid ; how readily we dismiss contrary evidence...and much more. Not a light read, tho aimed at the lay,; my own belief in my rationall powers was duly humbled by many of the examples and thought experiments, most of which I got wrong or gave up on. K. Has a genial touch of humility and warmth, admits his own errors and teaches us from them, as well as from his successes. lovely that he gets nobel for economics without knowing anything about economics. A kindly old Jewish uncle full of wisdom and sympathy for human weakness. ( )
  vguy | Oct 24, 2013 |
Fascinating discussion about how we humans make decisions, economic or otherwise. I particularly enjoyed the way Kahneman illustrated his points by first having readers try various exercises which made the book somewhat interactive and reinforced the observations that Kahneman makes. ( )
  nmele | Oct 15, 2013 |
Kahneman explains in simple terms how our mind processes situations and explains why we commonly make mistakes and irrational decisions due to systemic preconceptions and reliance on experience. The book contains a number of experiments, studies, and like examinations of behavior and thinking patterns. Kahneman also painstakingly explains how to avoid decision-making blunders and why these are blunders. Interesting reading. ( )
  CarterPJ | Oct 9, 2013 |
I had been looking forward to reading this, ever since it first came out, but I was a little disappointed that it was so detailed - which made the book seem rather repetitive, and for me, spoilt what was such an interesting topic. ( )
  shirleybell | Sep 26, 2013 |
Very readable account of recent research in behavioral economics by a pioneer in the field. ( )
  MarkGFaust | Sep 15, 2013 |
Another behavioral economics book, this one by an academic who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the psychological quirks that make humans very different from the “rational” actors of classical economic theory. We like examples and don’t understand numbers; we make different choices depending on how the exact same situation is framed (loss versus gain); we don’t sum up our utility over time, but rather judge things and experiences by their peaks and depths, which can lead us to make choices that lead to less overall happiness.

I thought he gave a very good explanation for why we think stuff will make us happy and it doesn’t. There’s hedonic adaptation, which is that people don’t notice things once they’re familiar/return to their standard baselines pretty reliably after a shocking event, whether it’s winning the lottery or losing use of one’s legs in an accident. Loud noise and chronic pain aside—and it’s a pretty big aside—we tend to adapt. And therefore we overvalue things and undervalue experiences: most of the time, we aren’t actually thinking “damn, I love my sports car” even when we’re in the car—mostly, we’re thinking about something else, like “what the hell is that jerk in the BMW doing?” So if you ask a person “how much do you love your sports car?” they’ll focus on the car, give you their estimate of peak love, and mistakenly think that they feel like that most of the time, instead of actually putting the car out of their mind most of the time. By contrast, Kahneman suggests, experiences do have extended utility and we’re less likely to overvalue them.

One claim whose force I recognized from experience was that, if regression towards the mean comes up in a court case, the side that has to explain what it means is going to lose. I don’t remember seeing the issue put this way, but I liked it: regression and imperfect correlation are exactly the same thing. It seems surprising to us to say “highly intelligent women often marry less intelligent men,” so we produce causal explanations. But it’s not surprising to say “the correlation between spouses’ intelligence is less than one,” that is, spouses aren’t always matched or in some other lockstep relation in intelligence. But algebraically, the two statements are the same—if correlation is less than one, then outliers will tend to be married to people who aren’t quite as far from the mean as they are, which is to say regression towards the mean, which is to say that highly intelligent anyones will tend to be married to less intelligent spouses. It’s our search for causation that trips us up. ( )
  rivkat | Aug 28, 2013 |
Looking back to some things, we often feel that had done something wrong in taking decisions, but not intentionally. This book takes you the psychology behind working of our mind, our so called rationality & intuition. It will help to see "Why is the way we react" or "How susceptible we are to things". It will be a tough ride as it will shatter a lot of preconceptions but a very helpful tool to learn about behaviours. At 500 pages long, it has just touched the vastness of this field with concision & engaging activities.
Along the way, you will also pick some methods like regression, pre-mortem for effective decision making in important situations. ( )
  kushal.gupta | Aug 4, 2013 |
This very clearly-written book is a surprisingly quick read. With warmth and humor, Kahneman presents common irrational decision-making blunders; explains why we make the mistake, why it's a blunder at all, and what we ought to do to avoid the blunder. ( )
  BenTreat | Jul 22, 2013 |
Fascinating; very readable; a little more mathy than I tend to prefer, but (in Kahneman's terms) that's my lazy System 2 talking. ( )
  otterpopmusic | Jul 21, 2013 |
Daniel Kahneman is an economics Nobel prize winner. His groundbreaking work, with his colleague Amos Twersky, paved the way for behavioral economics. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" is a book that is supposed to summarize most of Kahneman's work over his illustrious career. The book's central theme is the existence of two modes of human thought: system 1 - the fast and instinctive mode; and system 2 - the slow, more logical, mode. Throughout the book Kahneman strives to show how we are "slaves" to system 1, even though we believe we are rational, logical beings. He brings many examples and describes some of the studies he conducted. Although his writing is much less "popularized" than, say, Dan Ariely, this is still a book that can be enjoyed by the uninitiated (like me). There are many "wow" moments that makes us realize how little we understand our thought processes.
  ashergabbay | Jul 7, 2013 |
Kahneman's writing is engaging. The book leaves you considering how you'll respond to the next problem that comes along. ( )
  reluctantacademic | Jun 19, 2013 |
Dr. Kahneman gives the reader a glimpse into the latest research on the mind, revealing that a vast amount of mental processing takes place beneath the level of consciousness. Most of us believe we're the conscious author of our thoughts and behaviors, but neuroscience is showing that that belief is wrong.

Our conscious mind constantly spins stories to make sense of our own inexplicable behavior (caused by the subconscious processes) and the behavior of others, but, Dr. Kahneman informs us, "Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance."

Some of the information is actually frightening, like "hindsight bias," which means that we have trouble remembering the past accurately. We tend to attribute our current knowledge to our past self, and have trouble believing that we ever thought differently.

Perhaps my favorite example from the book is a study of judges in Israel who spend all day considering requests for parole. Sixty-five percent of requests for parole were granted right after the judges had eaten, dropping steadily to zero just before the judges’ next meal.

If you asked the judges about their decisions, do you think they would be aware of this tendency to get grumpier as they got hungry, or do you think they would believe they were being equally neutral and fair throughout the day? I imagine the latter would be the case.

Dr. Kahneman cites other studies involving associative thinking (for example: think of “banana” and “vomit,” now try to think of a banana without feeling slightly sick) and priming (think of “yellow,” now think of “fruit”—you probably thought “banana” because you were primed with the idea of yellow). These studies, Kahneman asserts, “have yielded discoveries that threaten our self-image as conscious and autonomous authors of our judgments and our choices.”

Much of the second half of this book is an extended examination of the flaws in our decision making based on the ordinary workings of our minds. For example, the "planning fallacy" means that almost everyone creates forecasts that “are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios and could be improved by consulting the statistics of similar cases.”

We are, Dr. Kahenman concludes, "strangers to ourselves."

What did I learn from this book? Be humble about what you think you know.
( )
  KatieBrugger | Jun 6, 2013 |
An extraordinarily rich and generous summary of the results of a remarkable lifetime of investigating the way that we humans actually think. ( )
  dazzyj | May 23, 2013 |
This book examines interesting ideas, but the author won the Nobel prize for economics, not literature. Dull writing.
  elimatta | May 19, 2013 |
An aspiring novelist must be a stubborn, irrational, plodding fool. A successful novelist is a lucky, stubborn, irrational, plodding fool.
This book explains why most novels are never completed or, if completed, never published.
A complex, long-term, open-ended project is a risky venture. Odds are so grim the creator engages in self-deception just to keep hope alive during the creative process. Probability insists that 1) the project will never be finished, 2) if finished, it will take years longer than predicted, and 3) if finished, it will never be used for its intended purpose, publication. Yet writers keep starting novels. Self-deception is a powerful force.

"I eventually learned three lessons.... The first was immediately apparent: I had stumbled onto a distinction between two profoundly different approaches to forecasting, ... the inside view and the outside view. The second lesson was that our initial forecasts ... exhibited a planning fallacy. Our estimates were closer to a best-case scenario than to a realistic assessment. I was slower to accept the third lesson, which I call irrational perseverance: the folly we displayed ... in failing to abandon the project. Facing a choice, we gave up rationality rather than give up the enterprise." Kindle location 4196
  maryoverton | May 18, 2013 |
Those of us who aren't behavioral psychologists call it lazy thinking. Or knee-jerk decision-making. Kahneman's enlightening book explores the different ways our brains work. Right from the very first pages, he lays out an understandable road map, suggesting that there are two distinct "systems" at play. System One is the more intuitive, emotional thinking process that requires minimal effort. System Two is the more analytical process that requires far more "brain power."
Plowing through this book will require readers to put on their System Two thinking caps. I agree with some reviewers who suggest that the points could have been made more effectively in far fewer pages. But the fact that I incorporated some of Kahneman's research into my college communications course the same week that I started reading the book is a clear indicator of how much I value his concepts. My students enjoyed some of the brain-teasers (my phrase, not Kahneman's) that illustrate how impulsive, lazy thinking can taint our decisions. ( )
  brianinbuffalo | May 14, 2013 |
Highly entertaining look at behavioural economics. This book helped me think (at least until my "system 2" got tired) about my own cognitive biases and the emotions behind some of my decisions. Mr. Kahneman's work is a tribute to the power of story-telling. Our "System 1", or intuitive brains, construct stories based on past experience. Narratives have become popular in management training on leading change.

I know colleagues without any background in economics or psychology found some of the text difficult, but Mr. Kahneman gives lots of real-life examples that provide insights for everyone. ( )
  LynnB | May 7, 2013 |
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