Thinking, Fast and Slow – Book Review

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5 July 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” is a groundbreaking book written by Daniel Kahneman, a renowned psychologist and Nobel prize winner in economics and all around superstar. 

Kahneman is a prominent figure in the field of behavioral economics and psychology. Born in 1934 in Tel Aviv, Israel, he pursued his education at Hebrew University, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in psychology and mathematics. Kahneman went on to complete his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and later became a professor at Princeton University. So to say his accolades are significant is an understatement!

Kahneman’s work, which he conducted in collaboration with Amos Tversky, revolutionised the psychology around how we think. Published in 2011, the teachings of the book have been implemented in practice for over a decade, and based on research conducted by Kahneman over several decades. The book uses his teachings and study to unpack the mind and explains that there are two systems (called System 1 and System 2) that affect the way we think and make choices and the understanding of human decision-making processes. 


What is System 1? 

System 1 represents fast, automatic, and intuitive thinking. It operates effortlessly and unconsciously, relying on mental shortcuts (heuristics) and associations to quickly process information. This system evolved to help humans make rapid judgments and react to immediate threats or opportunities and we often refer to this as intuition and gut feelings. However, it can be prone to biases, errors, and cognitive illusions. 

What is System 2?

System 2, on the other hand, is slow, deliberate, and reflective thinking. It involves conscious effort and concentration to analyse complex problems, engage in logical reasoning, and override the intuitive responses generated by System 1. It requires an effortful mode of thinking and requires mental energy and concentration.

What system do we use? 

Kahneman’s book explores the interplay between these two systems and how they shape our judgments, decisions, and overall thought processes.

The two systems in our brains are constantly in conflict and fighting over our actions and behaviours. Kahneman uses a number of research-backed anecdotes to show that our inherent preference for System 1 can lead to cognitive biases and errors. In addition, because System 2 can be mentally taxing, as individuals we often default to System 1 where possible. 

System 1, although beneficial, is subject to a number of cognitive pitfalls. Examples of pitfalls are things like the anchoring effect (which means that you rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered, which hinders your assessment of addition factors), or confirmation bias (which is where individuals seek or interpret information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and disregard or downplay evidence to contract them), or the framing effect (the effect that the way information is presented or framed can influence decision-making. People’s choices can be influenced by positive or negative options, even if the content is the same).

Kahneman believes that understanding the limitations and biases of our thinking is crucial for making better decisions, whether in personal life, business, or policy-making. By raising awareness about these cognitive pitfalls (like error, mis-remembering), Kahneman aims to improve critical thinking and promote more rational decision-making by actively encouraging us to engage in System 2 thinking.

In summary, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman provides an illuminating exploration of the two systems of human thought. Through his extensive research and engaging writing style, Kahneman reveals the biases and limitations inherent in our thinking processes, ultimately offering valuable insights to enhance decision-making and foster a better understanding of human behaviour.

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