135 Journals Book Club: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

13 Apr

http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman-ebook/dp/B00555X8OA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397358503&sr=8-1&keywords=Thinking+Fast+and+SlowThinking, Fast and Slow

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman starts his best selling economics/psychology tome with an intriguing idea: that people’s brains have two modes of operation:

  1. Fast: i.e; the part of the brain that gathers information quickly and indiscriminately, then quickly turns it into a story or assumption, and often causes us to act on it. It’s handy when as y sister once said, “You don’t know what ait’s going to feel like when a car is bearing down on you at 60 mph—you just get out of the way.”

However, this quick thinking part of the brain is sometimes wrong. In that case a person can use the part of the brain that is

  1. Slow. This part of the brain works more slowly and with more effort to reason out whether or not an assumption is true or not—even if the answer is not intuitive. This part of the brain is activated less often because it is tiring, requires discipline, and is expensive in terms of energy requirements.

Throughout the book, Kahneman gives examples of many ways that humans make mistakes in our thinking. He shows how we are in some ways wildly overoptimistic, that we are prone to judge by the most dramatic or memorable events rather than the typical ones, that we tend to be overly risk averse, for example.

One of the most interesting ideas in the book for me is that when people tare thinking FAST, they sometimes answer an easier question than the one that was asked. This interested me in part because it is something famous people frequently do—albeit deliberately—in public interviews. It amused me that people do this to themselves, unconsciously.


As Kahneman points out, this part of the brain is activated less often because it is tiring, requires discipline, and is expensive in terms of energy requirements. (Not that it’s literally “a part” of the brain—more of a systemic way of thinking). As neuroscience fans know, the brain consumes far more than its fair share of the food and other resources we give our bodies, and slow thinking requires more of that energy.


It becomes more and more clear that Kahneman’s work is less about neuroscience than it is about economics. It focuses on years of experiments done by him and others. About risks—whether someone would accept $100 and so son. Some of this later part of the book can become something of a slog, in my opinion. He is too good an academic not to provide evidence to prove his point, but aferwhile, it seemed like a bit of overkill. However, it does add to the richness of his thesis. Also, he uses a very useful technique at the end of each chapter of providing several small examples of what he is talking about.


Oh—by the way, if I were to read the book again, I would not read it on a Kindle. I would purchase a copy and write notes all over it. There are a number of great terms, like affect heuristics, that I’d like to throw around at dinner parties. But now I not only forget what affect heuristics are, I forget what heuristics are. I may have to make it my word of the week so I remember it. Also, WYSIATI (what you see is all there is). Overall, my slowly considered opinion is that this IS a fascinating thesis but that there are some parts that are a little more skimmable than others.


Writing Prompt: Can you think of a time when thinking fast was helpful? Or a time when thinking slow was better?



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