Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

by Manshu on March 7, 2012

in Books

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” is written by Daniel Kahneman who won the Nobel prize in Economics in 2002 and what’s most amazing about this is that he hasn’t taken a single economics course in his life, and is chiefly a research psychologist.

This is one of the most amazing books that I’ve ever read and everyone should try to read this at least once.

It deals with the way the brain thinks and describes it as being two distinct systems: System 1, which takes instant decisions or intuitive decisions like what’s 2 + 2 and System 2, which takes more deliberate decisions which needs analysis like how likely is it that it will rain tomorrow?

The central idea is that System 1, which deals with intuitive and instant decisions is called to action by the brain first and only if that system is unable to furnish an answer to the problem is System 2 called into action.

The book tells us how the brain tries to substitute a difficult question with a simple question and tries to answer the simple question instead of the correct one and shows many other fallacies of snap judgments.

Let me excerpt an interesting example from the book:

Half of them saw the puzzles in a small font in washed-out gray print. The puzzles were legible, but the font induced cognitive strain. The results tell a clear story: 90% of the students who saw the CRT in normal font made at least one mistake in the test, but the proportion dropped to 35% when the font was barely legible. You read this correctly: performance was better with the bad font. Cognitive strain, whatever its source, mobilizes System 2, which is more likely to reject the intuitive answer suggested by System 1

So, while you would think that making a quiz hard to read will increase the number of mistakes, the exact opposite happened when they made the quiz hard to read!

Another example of this type:

Consider the following: “Will Mindik be a good leader? She is intelligent and strong…” An answer quickly came to your mind, and it was yes. You picked the best answer based on the very limited information available, but you jumped the gun. What if the next two adjectives were corrupt and cruel?

Snap judgments are just one part of the book, it deals with other issues about how the brain thinks and how it often leads us to wrong judgments and it has countless examples of biases and how people are fooled into making wrong decisions because of the way we are wired and notions and biases that we have. It talks about how small losses pain us much more than the pleasure given to us by small gains, how we frequently misunderstand probability, how we place overconfidence in our abilities and plenty of other things that lead to incorrect decisions in our daily life. It’s not possible to go into a lot of them in this post but you can read about quite a few of them in the Amazon review page of this book.

I’ve just finished reading this book and I’m going to read this book a second time again now, something I’ve never done before and I think this is a must read for everyone.

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