08/05/2013

Thinking, fast and slow (book review)

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011

Today, I'll review another book of the Personal MBA list. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The author explains that the human mind consists of two systems with the prosaic names system 1 and 2.
"System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration."
Thinking of ourselves, we identify ourselves with sytem 2. Conscious and rational. However, system 1 has great influence as Kahneman makes clear in his book. Too often, we answer an easier question than the question we meet and/or jump to conclusions.

When we are awake, there's interaction between the two systems: 1 is active and 2 is in low-effort mode. The first generates suggestions, like impressions and feelings, for the other. System 2 endorses most of them into beliefs or voluntary actions. If system 1 doesn't have an answer, number 2 is immediately activated. Kahneman clarifies the interactions between to two systems with many examples and experiments.

The author furthermore describes his research together with economists and decision making scientists. He does so by introducing two fictitious characters: Econs and Humans. The first category lives in the land of theory and think and act logical and coherent. In other words, these rely on system 2. Humans act in the real world, have limited information and can't predict future. Their decisions rely heavily on system 1 even if they think they decide rational. Kahneman describes many experiments about people making choices and learns his readers that the decision that seems best, not always is the best. Our brain, in fact system 1, let us jump to conclusions. He warns us, Humans, to base our decisions on relevant facts, not on suggestions. As Kahnemans states: "What You See, Is All There Is" (WYSIATI).

The last part of the book is about a third pair, the two selves, and experiencing pain or pleasure. Everyone has an experiencing and a remembering self. The first is about the question Does is hurt now? The other about How was it on the whole? Based on research, Kahneman explains that our memories are based on the peaks and the end of an experience, for instance pain or listening to music. Furthermore, the duration is neglected. Therefore our memories are not only irreliable but also a bad base for future decisions.

Not being a psychologist, I like Thinking, Fast and Slow . Kahneman explains in a clear way his research and findings. The chapters are well chosen and compact. However, reading all experiments requires, according to me, some persistence to continue. Personally I liked the statistics but I can imagine not everybody does. All in all an interesting book about a topic I rarely know. Now I should be able to make better decisions. ;-) Do you decide rationally?

Happy reading!

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