Natalie's Reviews > Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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it was amazing

** spoiler alert ** I now know why Dad has referenced this book a million times in the past five years.

The book is a thorough examination of the research Kahneman has done over his many-decade career. As he so succinctly lays out in the final chapter, the book covers three main topics:

1) System 1 vs. System 2 thinking. System 1 is automatic and quick. We don't realize that it is taking place. It is the reason a human can manage so many tasks at the same time, but it is also susceptible to being fooled in certain situations. It perpetuates biases (because broad heuristics make for the quickest decisions) and it often subs out an easier question for the question at hand because the easier question is faster to answer. This section demonstrates the importance of utilizing System 2 thinking to check your answers and catch mistakes--Kahneman argues it shows self-restraint to take the extra time to do this, and allows humans to avoid many errors.

2) Humans vs Econs. In this section, Kahnemann undermines the entire basis for rational economic theory by showing that humans often do not make purely rational choices. The place where this is most apparent is in avoiding losses--on average, humans feel loss about twice as acutely as gain, meaning humans are more loss averse than they are risk seeking. Much of this has to do with the human emotion of regret--we will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid feeling regretful. He ultimately argues for redesigning law, business, and general life for real humans, not perfectly-rational Econs.

3) Experienced happiness vs. remembered happiness. Yet again, humans demonstrate some tendencies that do not conform to strict laws of logic. He shows that experienced happiness is very influenced by the peak level of pain someone felt during a period and the amount of pain that was experienced at the end of the measured period. Both have an outsized effect on how a person will rate their experience of something. Additionally, it is very important to humans for one's life to adhere to a story. The most straightforward example of this is that humans will say a life ending in a sad way outweighs the benefits of adding a decade or two of happy times to a person's life.

Overall, I am so pleased that I read this book prior to entering business school. One of the most salient learnings was the reminder of the huge impact of luck on the world, and how loathe humans are to ascribe anything to luck. It therefore is often an exercise in futility to study the choices of some of the most successful people in the world, because a vast amount of their success is attributable to luck, not choice.

The only thing I wish was better about this book was the writing. I think I was spoiled by Steven Pinker's beautiful prose in Better Angels of our Nature. Thinking, Fast and Slow is written in a very straightforward, understandable way, but no one would describe the writing as beautiful. I think some beautiful writing would have made it easier to read longer stretches of this book at a time.

1. Literary-ness: Eh. Writing was fine, not breathtaking.
2. Ease or difficulty of reading: Relatively easy, but the sometimes dry nature of the material and writing can make reading slow-going
3. Level of care/friendship for characters: N/A
4. Do I want others to have read this book? YES, especially business school people
5. "Coming up for air" feeling when pausing (or lack thereof): N/A
6. Feeling/emotions when finished: Glad to be done, and happy I had read it knowing that its central argument will influence my thinking in school and beyond
7. How eager I was to continue reading: Eager enough
8. Read when you want. Irrationality! And skepticism on the infallibility of human reason.
9. Will like if you appreciate: Psychology, economics, irrationality of humans

418 pages
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Reading Progress

July 11, 2016 – Started Reading
July 11, 2016 – Shelved
August 1, 2016 – Finished Reading

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