Folboteur's Reviews > Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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Feb 20, 12

bookshelves: science-of-mind
Read from January 13 to February 20, 2012

In the last few years I have had two books that took me FOREVER to get through. The first was Daniel Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and the second is Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow." What caused this? What do they have in common? Both books explain, in minute detail, simple concepts with immensely far-reaching implications, and both have been... after the slog... the most intellectually rewarding reading of my adult life.

Where to begin... I have a number of theories running around in my head, and occasionally I try to corral them on paper, organize, sequence and interconnect them in a way that will prevent my reader from meaningfully widening their eyes, in an aside, while winding their finger around one ear... ("Cuckoo!") Good writing about complex topics is very, very difficult, and Kahneman has corraled 30+ years of science, his career and all he has learned into a perfectly arranged sequence that leads the reader into a wilderness... provisioning you in each chapter with the tools you'll need for the next part of the journey.

The second most striking effect on me is the number of times I said, "Yes... YES!!! this is what I've been saying!" In my case it has usually been some sort of "intuitive"(excuse me, Mr. Kahneman... I mean "System 1") recognition of a pattern in my observations about the way we think. In Kahneman's case those intuitions have been converted into theoretical propositions, each meticulously researched in well designed experiments. Clearly, this is at least one difference between me and a Nobel Prize winning researcher.

So why does this stuff matter? In the context of broader discussions of free will, intention, choice and control over the directions our lives take, this book can provide some powerful insights that might currently be obscured by these "cognitive illusions" and the inherent limitations of "System 1/System 2" thinking.

Perhaps we're not as "free" in our decisions as we might like to think, if "priming" has such a stunningly reproducible effect. Perhaps we're not so determined, if activities that initially require "System 2" attention, can be turned into second-nature, "technical-expertise intuitions." I.e. learning and training MATTERS in our ability to detect and respond to events that... if untrained... might take advantage of our brain's inherent "blind spots" or weaknesses.

Perhaps childhood religious indoctrination is a very adept recognition of these mental tendencies/flaws, so profoundly (if intuitively/naively) expressed by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, "Give me the boy until 7, I will give you the man." (paraphrased; forgive me)

Kahneman's discoveries and documentation of mental capacity and biases could form the basis of a "Mental Martial Arts" program: an alternative form of indoctrination, in which students are trained to understand the weaknesses of their brains, and learn to take stances and practices that eliminate or reduce the errors to which these weaknesses can lead.

This book will rearrange the way you think... about how you think.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan "... after the slog... the most intellectually rewarding reading of my adult life"

I have found myself rereading an occasional sentence or two but look forward to this one

Muhammad El-Bishry Is this book talks about reason in philosophy?

John Pinkney "This book will rearrange the way you think... about how you think."

Truer words have ne'er been spoken.

Yes, the book is a bit of a "slog", but only because it demands that the reader put some work into thinking about his propositions. The book is well worth the effort!

Folboteur M. wrote: "Is this book talks about reason in philosophy?"


message 5: by Dave (new) - added it

Dave Burns Mental martial arts - see center for applied rationality

Folboteur Dave wrote: "Mental martial arts - see center for applied rationality"
AWESOME!! Thanks, Dave!

Muhammad El-Bishry Do know any classic book about reason?

Folboteur M. wrote: "Do know any classic book about reason?"
Sorry... none come to the top of my head. But then again, that's a pretty broad topic area.

I can recommend two books that deal with the "search for truth" and which discuss their methods:

One is "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig. Very American centric, 1974 novel.. Heavy on philosophy, but also a literary book, not a treatise on Reason.

"Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth". It's a "graphic novel" biography of Bertrand Russell's struggles with reason and mathematics and philosophy. A great read... see my review :-)

Good luck in your search.

message 9: by Satya (new) - added it

Satya Apart from all the good words and the learnings from the book ...Given the strengths and weaknesses of the system1 and system2 I think the learnings can be applied in the design of good products/services .

message 10: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Weathersbee Awesome book and a terrific review. It truly
is amazing how we are manipulated both internally and externally, with and without intentional purpose. Our "reality" and "free will" are so much more an illusion than we realize. What's worse, it's almost impossible to change the way we're wired. I feel the woe of the tiger that, believing it's free, has just found the edge of the enclosure.

Maurya Thanks for your great review. I love it that you reference other books that compare, and their impact. Appreciate your write up. (I am in the middle of the book and am truly enjoying it, even though it is taking me a long time to complete.)

message 12: by Folboteur (last edited Sep 26, 2014 09:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Folboteur There were moments I wanted to shelve it, Maurya. I probably should return and re-read it. I have put a lot more thought into the reality that humans have two essential evolutionary "events" that define us:

1. Ability to perceive and react: This is the foundation of learning and avoiding repeated failure, or achieving repeated success.

2. Ability to manipulate item 1 in other people: Manipulation, rhetoric, persuasion,... whatever we call it, some first ancestor noted (s)he could induce behavior in others by playing on their perceptions, and the "evolutionary arms race" was on.

We are constantly striving to be aware of how we are being manipulated, at the same time the manipulator is finding new ways to pluck our strings.

Kahneman's insights could be used by "warriors" on both sides of the battle.

message 13: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Charnas Excellent assessment!

Maurya Hi Folboteur - thanks for your message. I have to say that I found the last third of this book to be extremely challenging to read, and if I were to re-read, which I probably will at some point, would just read up to that point. (I found that last third to be redundant.)

Also wanted to share another book that I have recently read that you might really enjoy called Decisive by Heath & Heath. Cheers.

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