Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – A Review by Bill Dahl

An incredible treatise on primarily the life’s work of Dan Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Kahneman is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton and Prof. of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton. Although “primarily” is a useful term, Kahnenan utilizes the leading research in the field throughout the book.

How do human beings make decisions? What does the current research in psychology suggest? What do we think we know about the ways the human mind behaves? These are the three primary questions addressed in the book.

Kahneman introduces a myriad of concepts. The two main main one’s are System 1 and 2, and WYSIATI. System 1 is our intuitive, automatic system. System 2 is our effortful system (self control) engineered to overcome the impulses of System 1. We are all familiar with WYSIWIG. Kahneman introduces the concept of WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is. Kaheman introduces a pile of research that supports the notion that the human mind (System 1) relies upon WYSIATI to reinforce his contention that “we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” (p.24). WYSIATI provides us with the equipment that produces the capacity to “exaggerate the consistency and coherence of what we see.” (p.114). WYSIATI provides the inertia for the human mind’s willingness to “misclassify an event as systematic – – rejecting the belief that much of what we see in life is random.” (p. 117).

Throughout the book, the following thesis is an observation that is a constant:

“when people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound. If System 1 is involved, the conclusion comes first and the arguments follow.” (p.45).

System 1 is associative – looking for memories and experiences that provide a context for the mind to reply to questions, judgments and choices that we humans encounter in daily life. It is also “lazy”. System 1 enjoys “cognitive ease,” constantly updating our world view in terms of what is “normal.”System 2 requires effort to engage it. The human mind  is clearly prone to developing biases in making decisions. Frankly, the examples that Kahneman uses throughout the book will both amaze and amuse you.

This is NOT light reading. Frankly, this is distinctly a System 2 book – requiring “effortful” reading. Yet, it is well worth the effort. At times, a background in social research was very helpful to me, as I considered the plight of other readers who may not possess that experience. Yet, perhaps that is an over-simplification of my part, as Kahneman writes:

“The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.” (p. 138).

Kaheman states that “the test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact…you are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior than by learning surprising facts about people in general.” (p.174.). The way in which this book is written places one experientially within the context of the preceding statement…the reader is required to “experience” the book…it’s personal and participatory.The chapters on Bad Events and The Forfold Pattern were my favorites…and highlight a myriad of questions in the economic arena that beg for further inquiry. I intend to write a separate article about my observations spawned by these two chapters.

The chapters on the illusion of validity, intuition, optimism and expert intuition are fascinating… rearranging what you thought you knew.

This book takes one beyond the frontier of epistemology – or how we know what we think we know. It is a groundbreaking treatise into the current results of research that is completely counter-intuitive. What one comes to know after reading this book is just how much we have to unlearn from our knowing and embrace the challenges to learn anew, from this outstanding contribution.

I highly recommend Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman…just take your time with it…experience it…as Kahneman has gone to great lengths to invite your participation…learning is effortful. Well worth the effort.

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One thought on “Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – A Review by Bill Dahl”

  1. The Book Report featured this book this week and I was a little reluctant to read this one. I use the show to create my book list, Thanks for what you had to say! I will be adding this one to my list.

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