Free Thinking Fast and Slow Book Review Sample

Published: 2021-06-18 05:27:08
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“Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman was among the best-selling books of the year 2011. Kahneman is Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics for his work in prospect theory in 2002. He and his collaborator, Amos Tversky, one of the cognitive as well as mathematical psychologist from Israel, have revolutionized the way we think about economy in the book. This book has achieved numerous honors and awards such as New York Times’ one of the best books of 2011 and Best Book Award from National Academy of Sciences in 2012.

Kahneman has humbly yet brilliantly and non-technically summarized his research conducted over decades of honest and rigorous scientific work, sometimes in collaboration with Tversky, in this book. Kahneman has generously acknowledged the work of Tversky, who died before Kahneman received noble prize. In this book, Kahneman’s account of his collaboration with Tversky is heart-touching as for example he noted that together they were “exceptionally patient” and it becomes easy to work for perfection when people “are never bored”. David Brooks, New York Times columnist, noted that Kahneman and Tversky are “like the Lewis and Clark of the mind.” Tversky and Kahneman published their first landmark paper in the year 1974, which is an appendix to this book adding some interesting and readable information.

The book is interesting to read from the very start. It has a lot of surprising data and facts. It can be thought of composed of two parts. In the first part, writers wrote their findings and in the second part, writers wrote what they found interesting in other’s views and findings. It is probably this way of writing that can keep the reader on the track of reading without any distractions. After reading the book, readers would find the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of decision making.

This book is different from other science books as it is utterly fascinating and applicable to the daily lives. Although some readers may find a little bit of heavy science in the middle of the book as some of the chapters such as those dealing with risk-taking and statistics are slightly difficult to digest but overall they may also find the book very rewarding. The contents of the book dealing with the economic and political implications of the research are easy to understand. This book not only offers findings of the psychological research to the readers but also gives a thorough understanding of the processes that take place in the research questions and the systematic frame of scholars towards those questions and answering them.

On the other hand, readers may also find some repetition of stories and processes that is perhaps to illustrate the concepts presented in the book. This book is fairly long to read. It may take a little or lot longer to read this book to the end that is why some readers may also find the book laborious due to the number of pages they have to read. It may take weeks to read this book thoroughly as in my case. Sometimes, reader may find that the book is defying conventional wisdom. It is also of concern that many reports are outcomes of artificial settings. Many such outcomes cannot be considered to be applied to the real world as it is not sure that every generalization will work in real practice. Readers may find Kahneman's endorsement of "libertarian paternelism," unacceptable. More importantly, when used in the physical world it did not always found to be applicable.

“Thinking, fast and slow” describes a number of different interesting psychological facts. Contents of the book include biases, thinking, decisions, illusions, over-confidence, and judgments. It has also provided the psychological foundations of reactions, recognition, identifications, decisions, judgments, choices, options, conclusions, and much more. This book also deals with a number of irrational biases and interference effects including the halo effect, the "Florida effect", anchoring effects, framing effects, outcome bias, the confirmation bias, availability bias, hindsight bias, the focusing illusion, and many more like these. He has impressively presented the vision of flawed human reason.

Main theme of Kahneman is human irrationality. Kahneman has described a number of experiments in rationality to illustrate faults in human reasoning. He has reviewed many basic concepts behind psychology and statistics such as the regression to the mean, the optimistic bias, and the narrative fallacy. He shows how they are connected to his overall concerns about the processes of our thinking and making decisions. The term “psychonomics” has been introduced that is telling about the hidden reasoning behind our choices. So the book has good presentation of reasoning and rationality. It also deals with the analysis of well-being and happiness.

This book has given a whole new dimension to René Descartes’ philosophical proposition "Dubito ergo cogito" (“I doubt therefore I think”, or "I think, therefore I am", or "I am thinking, that is why I exist"). However, some readers may also find that the world presented by Kahneman is an exceedingly Cartesian’s world lacking the human intuition. With this book, Kahneman is also promoting the western-style way of thinking based on the binary schemata. People's minds, and the way they perceive thoughts, work fairly differently in different territories: what might be considered a "fallacy" in Kahneman's terms might be something more positive or suggestive in other contexts.

“Thinking, fast and slow” can be considered as an antidote to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink because contrary to Malcolm Gladwell, Kahneman is of the view of not to blink. Kahneman has clearly and deliberately described that “fast thinking” can result in both sound judgments and can also lead us astray. This book is illustrating that we are lazy people. We don’t solve the right problem firstly; we try to solve the easy problem.
This is considered to be a landmark book in social thought. This book gives a good deal of information about the process of mistaking statistical interpretations for coherent patterns.

It tells us why the decision of stock-picking of well-paid investment advisers can be useless and the prognostications of pundits are of no worth. It informs about the nature of businessmen and tells why they tend to be both oddly overconfident and unwisely risk-averse. This book explains the process of memory’s influence on decision-making in counterintuitive ways.

“Thinking, fast and slow” is showing that brains do have some sorts of statistical algorithms but they are not very accurate. Our brain is unable to understand the normal distribution. We used to expect more regularity than its actual presence in the world. Although human beings are not good intuitive statisticians but they are good intuitive grammarians. Even a little child can talk according to grammatical rules, and even an experienced statistician can make mistakes in statistics. “Thinking, fast and slow” shows that people place too much confidence in human judgment. Available examples can easily change our minds. It has been noted that Newspaper headlines can easily change our thinking about the chances of different things and processes. However, our minds are unable to predict chances of rare events. We used to overestimate the visible incidences such as terrorist attacks, and ignore those incidences of which we have no knowledge.

This book tells about three phases of Kahneman’s career, i.e. his initial working days on cognitive bias, his work as prospect theory, and his later work on happiness. In the first phase of his career, he worked with Tversky on “cognitive biases” and revealed about twenty different types of biases based on a series of ingenious experiments. Cognitive bias refers to unconscious errors of reasoning that can result in perceptual distortion and inaccurate judgment of our world. “Anchoring effect” is among the reasons for this bias, which represents the human tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of presented information. In the second phase of his career, he worked with Tversky and represented that people making decisions under uncertain or unpredictable conditions do not behave in the manner that economic models have conventionally assumed, i.e. they do not “maximize utility”. They developed an alternative version of decision making ability, which they referred to as “prospect theory”. In the third phase of his career, which was mostly done after the death of Tversky, he worked on “hedonic psychology” that is the science of happiness and its nature and causes. Kahneman has presented all these phases of his career in this book in an interesting and intellectual manner. This book is capable of expressing its words and thoughts in a clear and consistent manner. It is showing an emotional depth and intellectual penetration along with a good deal of self-help value. Readers find this account of his life entertaining and heart touching.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” also tells about overconfidence and self-delusions. It shows that we have an exaggerated sense of our understanding of the world, i.e. we think we understand it but in fact we have no clear understanding of this world. It is very helpful in differentiating between "experiencing" and "remembering" decision making. It has also presented many different biases. Knowledge of those biases can help in making better decisions by avoiding them, or making as fewer of them as possible. It has used many different findings and conclusions to illustrate that we have not to trust our gut or we are relying too much on our gut feelings. Only experts can trust their intuition that would be within their own area of expertise. In other cases, reflection and analyses are required.

Kahneman has catalogued people’s systematic mistakes and nonlogical patterns. One example in that cataloging is that of “Framing” in which test subjects are more likely to go for surgery if they know that the “survival” rate is 90% but not that the mortality rate is 10 percent. Another type of decision making is the “sunk-cost fallacy” in which people seek to avoid the feelings of regret and invest more time and money on projects having dubious results rather than giving them up and admitting that they were wrong. It also shows that willpower, which is a feature of System 2, requires effort and can result in higher level of IQ. In an experiment, children who were 4 years old were asked to delay eating an Oreo biscuit. They were then assessed for IQ after about a decade and researchers found their higher IQ levels. According to Kahneman, ability to use the System 2 can be considered as the sign of an “active mind” that is the predictor of success.

Kahneman has noted that many top performers from business especially fund managers and accountants, and even sports, eventually tend to revert to the mean, so success is largely attributed to the luck. This confuses incidences that may not be expected with those that are established by chance. Regarding this concept, in Chapter 17, the book is trying to illustrate that we have not to mistake luck for talent. According to the writer, "losses loom larger than gains" to the intuition that is why bad things generally appear to impress more than good things. An example to explain this phenomenon is the decision making including “Loss aversion” in which test subjects would like to get $46 than having a 50% chance of making $100. The same thing has been reported by the psychologist John Gottman. Gottman reported that for a continuous and stable relationship, there must be at least five times more good interactions as compared to bad interactions.

In this book, Kahneman explores different processes and points that are affecting our thoughts. He provides examples for different processes, and sometimes he uses unlikely word pairs such as “vomit and banana”. Kahneman has transparently and carefully presented his subject to change the way we think about our thinking and our lives. It has also illustrated different processes of thinking in our mind in a deeper, and often frightening, manner.

There is an exceptionally clear and precise study of the “dual-process” model of the brain. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is moving around two fundamentally different modes or processes of thought: “System 1” shows quick type of thoughts having instinctive as well as emotional nature, whereas “System 2” is slow type of thinking having deliberative and logical nature. This book also deals with the cognitive biases related to each type of thinking. System 1 and System 2 have been presented as fictional characters to illustrate the psychology of thinking and understanding.

System 1 is considered as the fast, associative, metaphorical, intuitive, automatic, impressionistic and largely unconscious mode of reasoning or thinking about the world. This mode of thinking can’t be switched off, and largely involves no sense of intentional control. It checks the hostility in a voice and without any effort completes the situations, conditions, or statements such as “bread and .” One of the chapters of the book has the title of “A machine for jumping to conclusions.” After reading the book, people may realize that they are completely System 1 thinker and decider. The capabilities of System 1 include innate skills that are also common in other animals. We have an innate ability to perceive different things in the world. From the very start, we try to recognize objects, orient attentions, and keep away from losses. Some other activities become fast and automatic with the passage of time and prolonged practice. System 1 also starts learning between ideas as for example mind automatically attaches Paris to France upon asking the question, “What is the capital of France?” Kahneman says that automatic thinking is "not readily educable.” On the whole, we can say that intuition implies System 1 that is anti-statistical, i.e. statistics implies counterfactuals and System 1 has never performed counterfactuals. Some examples of the automatic activities by System 1 are the orientation to the source of a sudden sound, making a “disgusting face” upon looking at a horrible picture, identification of hostility in the voice, understanding simple sentences, and answering 2 + 2 = ?.

On the other hand, System 2 is considered as the slow, analytical, deliberate, and consciously effortful mode of reasoning or thinking that takes the action when we have to do something that can be done with time or needs time and mathematics or calculations such as filling the tax form or parking the car in a narrow space. Usually, System 2 starts working, unwillingly, when things become difficult. This System is considered as the “the conscious being you call 'I'” that can be considered as a mistake according to Kahneman. This book notes that people are mistakenly identified with System 2 though they are mostly System 1. Kahneman has compared System 2 with a supporting character, who thinks that she is the lead actor and has no idea of what is going on. Kahneman noted that looking into the person’s eyes and checking the dilatation of pupils can help in finding the engagement of the person’s System 2. After the end of the task, pupils contracted back to the normal size. Among other changes that take place in System 2 are tensed up muscles, increased blood pressure, and elevated heart rate. In chapter 2, Kahneman tells that thinking is metabolically an expensive phenomenon – 20% of our energy intake is used by the brain. This shows that slow thinking about one thing could use extra pack of energy leaving less energy for other things that is why the body is programmed to avoid slow thinking or System 2. We don’t invoke the energy expensive System 2 unless it is needed, as for example, multiplying two two-digit numbers while running requires System 2, so slowing down to multiply is an inevitable phenomenon. In order to promote slow thinking, Kahneman causes the reader to think on some of the example problems presented in the book. Some examples of System 2 include focusing of attention on the clowns in the circus, looking for a woman with white hair, telling someone phone number, counting the occurrences of letter “b” in a page, and checking the validity of a complex logical argument.

System 1 is considered to be helpful in proposing and System 2 is considered to be helpful in disposing. System 2 can be considered as the boss, but it exhausts easily, i.e. “ego depletion.” Very often, System 2 is satisfied with the story of System 1 as it goes very rarely with the slowing down of things and analyzing them. Most of the times, System 1 is good in decision but sometimes that story told by System 1 can be unreliable as it has been told in a faster manner. In all these processes, we can say that System 1 is the “secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make”. This psychodrama of System 1 and System 2 by the author is considered as “useful fictions” to illustrate the quirks of the human mind. Kahneman has noted that this division of thoughts is merely a model and has not to be taken literally. In fact, there is no System 1 or System 2 in the brain.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” can be a good read for a number of readers ranging from the field of education and business to marketing and politics. Moreover, it can be of great help to anyone who wants to read about human behavior and cognitive science. It is also an important book for those who like to read about investing and related decisions as it is also dealing with understanding of risk. It gives a good level of help to all those who want to get an understanding of the combination of cognitive psychology and behavioral finance and economics, fields that Kahneman and Tversky have launched together. It can also help in enlightening and entertaining the reader, especially if he or she is not exposed to the full range of research behind the behavioral economics.

It is also found to be of help to all those readers who are interested in the study of Internet although it doesn’t claim to be about the internet. Internet is constantly affecting our decision making ability and this book can tell us about the biases that can help in knowing how the internet is affecting our decision making ability. It can be considered as the necessary reading in this era of media overstimulation.

After reading the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, people would find immediate and obvious applications of its concepts in their personal and professional lives. Based on the ability of the book to illustrate different concepts, inclusion of this book into the course of psychology students can be of great help. Students would be able to know how we think, why we think the way we do, strengths and weaknesses while thinking, our biases and blind spots, and how to move out of the irrational thinking and be more rational. It can help students in selecting the best options in their lives. Similarly, its chapter 17, “Regression to the Mean” has good explanation and should be included as supplementary reading for introductory statistics class.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” has many important empirical findings that can help policy makers as for example this book says that French mothers enjoy their time with their children more than American mothers even though they spend less time with them. Similarly, a household income of nearly $75,000 in high-cost areas of the country can help in maximizing happiness. The book also notes that the women who live alone can have the same level of well-being as women who are living with their mates.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” is outstanding in its concepts and has distinguishingly beautiful clarification of details. It has presented the information in a precise and gentle manner. This book is open to all those people whose System 2 is not entirely ceased to exist. Although some chapters are more exhausting; overall it has short and easy to read patterns requiring no special training.

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