“Thinking Fast and Slow”

Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking Fast and Slow, is new to me, but not to others… In 2002 he received the Nobel Prize in Economics.  He is Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  

Thinking Fast and Slow focuses on the mind and, in particular, on two very distinct ways of thinking.  System I is thinking that is intuitive and emotional.  System II requires complex analysis of information, requiring a series of steps to work through information to reach a conclusion.

 For those who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, the concepts of intuitive thinking are well-known.  This is fast thinking.  Fast thinking is thinking that is essentially automatic.  It may be wrong, but it involves recognition of information almost instantaneously, followed as quickly by a rudimentary analysis and application of that information.
Daniel Kahneman, ever the scientist, identifies fast thinking by a very professorial name, “Heruistic” thinking, which, essentially means an “educated guess”, thinking based on factors for analyzing data relying on such factors as easily available information and one’s own experiences.  It is apparent throughout his book, that the author is suspicious of such intuitive thinking.
There are numerous aspects to his discussion of fast thinking.  Among them is that  the type of information an individual can analyze quickly varies from person to person.  Since my own background involves legal analysis, I am more likely to make intuitive decisions when reviewing matters related to the law.  In contrast, my husband’s expertise includes accounting and economic issues.  He will deal quickly with business matters that are outside my area of knowledge.
Decision making relying on fast thinking is potentially subject to serious errors because our intuitive thinking often relies on our own biases and limitations.  In my attempt to understand this concept, I am reminded of the saying “to a hammer, everything is a tack”.

Slow thinking is deliberative.  It differs from fast thinking not only in the speed with which it occurs, but the steps and process by which it happens.  One of Kahneman’s initial examples of deliberative thinking is the process of multiplying 17 x 24.  He opines that most people can’t immediately multiple complex numbers. No question that for me, as for most of us, reaching an answer  to this mathematical process requires a series of steps. There is nothing intuitive about the answer.

Kahneman analyzes various aspects of how we think, the factors that influence the speed and accuracy with which we analyze information, as well as ways in which we can improve the quality of our deliberative activities. While academic in the detail and in the explanations of the concepts on which he relies, the studies and experiments on which he rely represent a significant leap forward in our understanding of the human mind.  He also manages to effectively wrap into this analysis a lesser analysis of the impact of fast and slow thinking on the seemingly unrelated analysis of happiness and pain.

In his conclusion, Kahneman describes the mind as an “uneasy interaction between two fictitious characters:  the automatic System 1 and the effortful System 2.”  Thinking Fast and Slow is a book to be studied, rather than merely read.  Each of us can enhance the quality and accuracy of our decision-making by studying his work.  It is more than worth the effort required.