Thinking Fast and Slow
Thinking fast and slow
This book was a strong recommendation from many of my friends. I was on a combined call with 4 of them and I asked them all for a book recommendation. The moment that one of them mentioned thinking fast and slow, everyone immediately agreed and spoke about the book as though everyone should know it. I of course had never heard of this book but apparently, it’s very well known since any time I’ve brought it up since people just tend to agree, yes that’s a great book.
I found it very good and it seemed to put a lot of the ideas that I have learned from other intellectuals together and summed them up in a very pragmatic way. Mostly about behavioural psychology which is something that is very complicated and hard to get right. There are so many different schools of thought and so many supposed ‘’experts’’ on the topic. Every time I read into it seems that my views are subverted away from the previous author but in this case it seemed like the ideas where presented in a very functional way.
Everytime I look into the subject it seems that they will pick sides and be very firm. Taking some context into account but usually trying to form a theory that would be generally applicable. Saying things like well you should always trust your intuition, or that you should never trust it. Kahneman’s approach is much more realistic and echoes the spirit of intellectualism that I get from guys like Robert Sapolsky, (who is still my favourite). Basically, saying that in some cases you should trust it and in others you shouldn’t.
Some would say that everything is explained by nature and other would say it’s all explained by nurture. Kahneman and Sapolsky (who did not author the book, I just want to mention him whenever I can) appeal to me for their much more complicated and interesting approach to understanding human behavioural psychology.
Sapolsky opened his HUMBIO lectures in Stanford asking students whether they believed in nature vs nurture, and asked incredibly eloquently: ‘’and who thinks there is a magnificent, fascinating, nuanced interaction between nature and nurture?’’
Kahneman’s book is a great follow-up to Sapolky’s lectures, but it goes much more in-depth about the kinds of way one should train the mind to experience the world and how to react within it.
He opens with the two systems of thought forming that the brain will generally use.
System 1 being the fast system that is basically what has secured our survival. The age-old example of being in the savannah and hearing the bush behind you rustle, you don’t try to find out what it is you just run away and ensure your survival. The reason we have system one is that all those who would have stayed to ponder or try to find out exactly what that sound was would have been killed off. Leaving only the people with a strong reactionary fast thinking intuition to survive and propagate.
System 2 is the opposite. It is about methodical slow and calculated thinking. It’s about long-term planning, solving math problems, directing attention and focus. This type of thinking has mostly contributed to our ability to thrive, create, innovate and prosper.
Both of these are necessary and should be used in the right context. But their limitations also need to be understood. This is something talked about in the book and I think definitely easier said than done. This is also very different person to person. Some are just more inquisitive and others more impulsive.
Kahneman also demonstrates a lot of flaws in the way our brains work in processing data. One good
example given was about anchoring.
Which is basically about loaded questions. But can be extended to much more. That we tend to
arrive at conclusions mostly using some sort of reference. That reference is the supposed anchor.
This could be demonstrated by asking a sample group of people what the price of a certain good
should be. Only asking one half of them if it should cost more than 1000€ and the other group if it
should cost more than 100€. Usually by loading the question in this way it will sway the answers and
both groups will have vastly different averages.
In the real world what this means is that it is very difficult for us to form unbiased and well-informed
opinions, especially when there is pre-existing reference knowledge that makes it so much easier to
just compare rather than to actually think through it ourselves. The idea is that someone has done
the thinking for us. But if everyone would think that way then we would basically just be trusting the
first few opinions. And rarely are humans right on their first try.
The idea about information availability is also something great that was mentioned in the book. The
fallacy here is that many people will make judgements about the world or their environment based
the on the ease of availability of information. Or just how easy it is to come up with examples. The
problem here is that we will equate the frequency of thoughts with the probability of them actually
happening. This can be useful sometimes but usually it is not. And this is a real problem I think
especially in this time when information can travel extremely quickly and people I feel don’t have
the required attention spans to fully digest all of the nuances of any particular cases or to look
pragmatically at the actual probability of these types of events happening in the future.
Another flaw in human thinking is that of framing. This is basically the age-old analogy of the glass
being half full or half empty and how the framing of certain questions can change the answers. Some
examples are: asking the risk of losing 1 of 10 lives against the opportunity to save 9 out of 10. When
framed with the use of losing most answered against but when framed under the thought of saving
it would be favourable.
Once these types of psychological biases are understood they can help to better communicate with
people. Although it could be argued that this would be somewhat manipulative, there isn’t really an
option because which ever way you frame it, there will be bias one way or another. It is very difficult
to propose something with neutrality.
On the other hand, it could be argued that if everyone had the understandings of these
predispositions then this problem would not persist. This is a great thought and in an ideal world it
would be great if everyone was knowledgeable about their psychological weaknesses, but I don’t
think that it is reasonable to think that it would be possible to educate the world in this way.
There is so much more to this book worth talking about, but I want to keep this short and still
include some personal notes and possible objections.
Generally speaking, I understand full well why everyone was recommending this book and I will
recommend it to friends in the future as well. I feel that there is a lot to be learned about one’s own
psychology and it can prepare you to be a better thinker in the future.
My only real objection would probably be that the book is so convincing in so many ways that it feels
almost religious or prophetic. It’s a difficult thing to put in words but I’m always wary and sceptical
about anything I read. I’m sure that if I would put the time into fact-checking everything said it may
very well be that everything is well founded but until then I will entertain all of these ideas with an
appropriate amount of conviction and see how they influence my approach to understanding my
life, how to be a better thinker and what is important to ensure my happiness.