Laura's Reviews > Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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really liked it

This was a beast to finish (over a year) but I'm glad I stuck with it.

The premise of this book is that our brain operates on two modes: the fast mode (System 1) which mades most of our choices and is primarily instinctive, and the slow mode (System 2) which is responsible for the more thorough, reasoned decisions. The problem is that the slow mode is lazy and hard to activate, leading to a number of systemic errors in decision making that have important real-life consequences.

Some of the examples Kahneman gave felt quite accessible to me. For instance, he talks about how many times, when we encounter a tough question which we aren't sure how to answer, we unconsciously substitute it for an easier one. As an example: "Which politician would make a better president?" is often substituted with "Which politician looks more presidential?"

My favorite was about regression to the mean, because I noticed this in my drawing ages ago—as far back as high school, I remember explaining to people that I measured my progress by how well I felt I was drawing on my bad days. The idea is that when you perform well in a task (meaning "above average"), you can be tempted into believing that your exceptional performance represents a new standard rather than just that: an exception. On your next attempt, when you once more perform according to your previous average, you feel discouraged because you had adopted a false expectation for how you should have performed. On the other hand, if you have a poor performance, regression to the mean states that you should expect to do better the next time round simply because you are likely to go back to your average.

Also, loved the last bit in which he talks about the conflict between our experiencing brain and our remembering brain.

My biggest dissatisfaction with the book was that at times I felt the visual aids were poorly conceptualized (causing more confusion than clarification), and that parts felt like poorly-worded story problems that were difficult to put together and sometimes explained too quickly. Probably my most frustrated moment came toward the end of the book where I literally pulled out a pad of paper to try to draw out the problem, spent an hour trying to work out what was being said, and felt incredibly stupid the entire time. Eventually I figured out that the problem he had posed was entirely different from the problem I thought he was posing, but it felt like a particularly bad math lesson when you know that the answer in the book has to be correct, but you've worked the problem through a dozen times and can't find your mistake.

Given that the book is entirely about mental errors, you are bound to discover a few that you routinely make as you read it. It can feel a little ego-crushing at times, but it's definitely worth it.

Probably would not re-read in its entirety, but I expect I will want it for reference in the future.

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Reading Progress

January 22, 2015 – Started Reading
June 22, 2015 – Shelved
March 14, 2016 – Finished Reading

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