Philipp's Reviews > Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, on-thinking

Edit 17th February 2017:

Here's another looong blog post which goes through the studies cited by Kahneman and finds that most of them are underpowered: these studies have been run on so few students that the results they show could be wrong. As an example, you want to know the probability that a coin flip is 'heads': you could flip the coin four times, it always comes up heads, so you conclude that the coin always comes up heads, which is nonsense of course. Only if you keep on flipping do you learn that the 'heads' probability is roughly 50%. However, sometimes you flip a coin four times and two flips come up with heads, two with tails, so in that case you'd conclude that the probability is 50% and you'd be right, but you cannot know for sure, your study is underpowered. In other words - you could trust Kahneman's cited studies, but they could also fail to replicate with more subjects.

There's even a comment by Kahneman himself in the comments section, quote:

What the blog gets absolutely right is that I placed too much faith in underpowered studies. [...] I am still attached to every study that I cited, and have not unbelieved them, to use Daniel Gilbert’s phrase. I would be happy to see each of them replicated in a large sample. The lesson I have learned, however, is that authors who review a field should be wary of using memorable results of underpowered studies as evidence for their claims.

Edit 5th July 2016:
This interesting recent blog post looks at many of the papers Kahneman cites, recommended reading:

What a difference four years makes. I will still describe Thinking, Fast and Slow as an excellent book – possibly the best behavioural science book available. But during that time a combination of my learning path and additional research in the behavioural sciences has led me to see Thinking, Fast and Slow as a book with many flaws.

It seems that many studies Kahneman cites failed to replicate.

Old review 2014:

In a way, this summarizes the lifework of Kahneman himself.

The book summarizes the myriad ways our own minds can deceive us - Kahneman uses the model of System 1 and System 2, System 1 are our fast, intuitive reactions, System 2 is the slow, careful reaction for which we have to make a conscious effort to activate. We're often deceived by the simplicity with which System 1 generates an answer, and this book is full of examples on problems arising from our "lazy" brains. For example, if we think about a person's qualities System 1 will fill in unknown based on how much we like the person (the Halo effect). Or, during a sale a person makes a unrealistically high starting offer - and even though we dismiss it, our brains base all other thoughts on that "anchor" (so it's called the anchoring effect). The book is full of effects like that - effects which might undermine your sense of reality.

Only 40-50% of the book is about the two systems - the rest is about the problems economy has with psychology, in which the author makes fun of economy's unrealistic assumptions that humans are completely rational; and the rest is also about the experiencing and the remembering self - we judge events not really on what we experience, but on what we remember, and there are myriad ways to trick or influence these memories. For example, we can "taint" an experience by adding an unpleasant memory to the end of the experience - people automatically judge the full experience worse than before, regardless of everything that precedes the unpleasant memory!

The only problems I had: Kahneman loves to list examples to strengthen his points, so some corners of the book are slow! Also, his relatively dry writing style may be off-putting to some.

Recommended for: People interested in clear thinking. Decision-makers. Scientists. Politicians.


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Quotes Philipp Liked

Daniel Kahneman
“I have always believed that scientific research is another domain where a form of optimism is essential to success: I have yet to meet a successful scientist who lacks the ability to exaggerate the importance of what he or she is doing, and I believe that someone who lacks a delusional sense of significance will wilt in the face of repeated experiences of multiple small failures and rare successes, the fate of most researchers.”
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman
“However, optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers. One of the lessons of the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession is that there are periods in which competition, among experts and among organizations, creates powerful forces that favor a collective blindness to risk and uncertainty.”
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Reading Progress

January 12, 2013 – Shelved
March 25, 2014 – Started Reading
March 25, 2014 –
page 251
March 27, 2014 –
page 350
March 28, 2014 – Shelved as: non-fiction
March 28, 2014 – Shelved as: on-thinking
March 28, 2014 – Finished Reading

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