Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

by stephenpalmersf

This is a really fascinating book. I picked it up because I wanted to compare what it said with what other authors have written about social media, but, to my delight, it gave me far more.

Kahneman is a psychologist with an interest in decision making, thought processes, and how such things relate to the economic world in particular. Working with Amos Tversky he won a Nobel award for his ground-breaking, often counter-intuitive discoveries.

This book posits two thinking modes, that Kahneman calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 is quick, “intuitive” (although see later), easily fooled, and quite often wrong. System 2 is our reflective, slow, rational mode. But, it turns out, System 2 is lazy and only comes into play when System 1 is stuck.

The first two thirds of the book especially are a revelation. We all know we’re not entirely rational or reasonable – we all have quirks and foibles, biases and predilections – but this book shows just how irrational we can be, and how easily we’re fooled by such things as verbal framing, halo effects, cognitive illusions and much, much more. This part in particular has great relevance to our online life, since that – social media especially – has been moulded by the international technology companies in order to put us in their thrall. They know what System 1 buttons to push and they do it mercilessly, exploiting people at will and with almost no regulation. (I used this theme in my novel The Autist.)

A later section on decision making is a bit mathematical and detailed, but overall this is an amazing and very thought-provoking book. Everyone who’s concerned about how social media especially is changing our modes of thought, and therefore our behaviour, should read it. Educators in particular should read it! And although it seems at the outset that Kahneman is worried about how easily we are fooled by our intuitive irrationality, he does point out the evolutionary merits of that system and that, if it is fed with truth and reality, it is right at least as often as it’s wrong. But of course, in the digital world, truth and reality is what is being eroded.

Highly recommended.