Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Thinking, fast and slow

I imagine if you’ve been to the airport or any bookstore that has best seller lists, you’ve come across Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and slow.

You might think it’s one of those easy pop-psych books that you can read in the plane, but it’s rather more tough than that. It makes you think and then makes you sad that your brain is lazy and you’re not an intuitive statistician. But it’s okay, everyone’s brains are lazy and bad at stats.

Kahneman takes you through a myriad of experiments that show the failures in our brains to be consistent or to succumb to bias so easily it makes you wonder how we survive in society. He introduces all the different fallacies, including some terrifying ones like the illusion of validity and the illusion of skill. The latter is where there’s a profession that has outcomes no better than chance. For example, the entire stock trading industry. Hooray! I’m so glad we believe in something as rational as economics.

He also goes a bit into prospect theory and undermines some of the central tenants of utility theory, or the idea that people are rational when it comes to making economic choices. [Spoiler: they’re totally not].

It’s also kind of scary about how framing questions can have different outcomes. So far, some are used for good, eg having an opt out rather than opt in box for organ donation. But on the other hand, using it to manipulate is essentially how marketing and politics work.

So how do we overcome our lazy brain? Reframe the question so you can recognise when there’s a bias in terms of framing is one way. Taking longer to reach decisions is another. I liked the idea of a pre-mortem on any big decision. The idea that before you make the decision, you have a workshop where you say: imagine this idea has totally failed, what are the reasons why it did?

But basically, overcoming biases is hard. It is hard because it feels unintuitive. It is hard because our brains like to go for the easy win.

The other weird and wonderful thing was the idea that you would prefer a longer painful experience over a shorter painful experience, if the longer one was less intense over the last 30 seconds or so. It’s not the pain that is bothersome, it’s the remembering that is important thing. You’d rather experience 30 seconds more of pain, rather than remember the first 60 seconds of intense pain. HOW WEIRD IS THAT, YOU STILL FEEL THE FIRST 60 SECONDS? Our brains are totally weird.

It’s a brilliant book, I do recommend reading it. You have a bit of a heavy first 200 pages, but it is worth it for the pay off by the end. You can recognise your own behaviours very easily when reading it, which makes it all the more accessible, if terrifying.

2 thoughts on “Book review: Thinking, fast and slow

  1. Pingback: Book review: Irrationality | Blogendorff

  2. Pingback: Book review: The Scout Mindset | Blogendorff

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