Vainolo's Blog

Book Review – Thinking, Fast and Slow

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51oXKWrcYYLContinuing on the subject of human behavior (started with this book), I finished reading Thinking, FastĀ and Slow, by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman. What a great book!


His main idea is that our cognitive functions are executed by two different systems: The first one (system 1) is automatic, fast, doesn’t require much energy, and isn’t very exact (to say the least). The second one (System 2) has to be called explicitly, takes a lot of energy, and its results are much more accurate than those of system 1. This by itself is very interesting, but on top of that, we are limited by the amount of time System 2 can be used until it becomes tired and starts making mistakes. And system 2 can concentrate on only one thing at a time, as is shown by the “Invisible Gorilla” experiment. Are we really that dumb???

But there is hope! We can train our brains to use System 1 for complex tasks (such as playing an instrument, operating people, programming, etc.). This happens because we are “energy efficient” by design: “As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved… A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion… In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and cost. Laziness is built deep into our nature”.

The problem with energy efficiency is that we turn to intuition to make decisions, and this is problematic: “many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it add much as possible”. And not only are we lazy and dumb, we are also blind to this: “when people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound. If System 1 is involved, the conclusion comes first and the arguments follow”. But why does this happen? Mainly because our mind likes to be in a consistent state. Inconsistency makes it uncomfortable, which takes energy. And we are lazy, remember? Our minds work with stories, and “poor evidence can make a very good story”.

I could go on and on about this book, but I’ll just stop here and sometime in the future I’ll compile all the points given in it into a comprehensive list. And I’ll have to read this book again. It’s definitely worth every minute spent.

Did I say it was great?

Written by vainolo

February 14th, 2016 at 9:08 pm

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