Thinking, Fast and Slow

person using laptop computer

Am I a little embarrassed that it took me to long to read Thinking, Fast and Slow? Yes, yes I am. My excuse is that I savored this book over the course of several months, reading it, bit by bit, taking notes and trying to fully ingest each insight.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you have any interest whatsoever in learning about why we think the way we do, especially why and how our thinking fails us. One of the unfortunate outcomes of reading the book will be a nearly uncontrollable urge to pinpoint the errors in the thought process of others; the risk of becoming uninvited to dinner parties is real. Of course, even the author, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman admits that it’s easier to detect the faults of others.

In a nutshell, Thinking, Fast and Slow helps explain the two modes of our brain: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and used whenever possible. Because System 2 uses so much energy, we only use it when we have to: math problems requiring paper and pencil, when asked to analyze, contemplate, or slow down. The problem is that the shortcuts we use when engaging in System 1 (which we use all the time) is riddled with errors.

A few gems

The importance of stories:

The test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact…. But even compelling causal statistics will not change long-held beliefs or beliefs rooted in personal experience. On the other hand, surprising individual cases have a powerful impact and are a more effective tool for teaching psychology because the incongruity must be resolved and embedded in a causal story.

You build the best possible story from the information available to you, and if it is a good story, you believe it. Paradoxically, it is easier to construct a coherent story when you know little, when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.

What we understand

The core of the illusion is that we believe we understand the past, which implies that the future also should be knowable, but in fact we understand the past less than we believe we do.

What affects our current mood:

Our emotional state is largely determined by what we attend to, and we are normally focused on our current activity and immediate environment. There are exceptions, where the quality of subjective experience is dominated by recurrent thoughts rather than by the events of the moment. When happily in love, we may feel joy even when caught in traffic, and if grieving, we may remain depressed when watching a funny movie.

What to remember when you’re upset:

This is the essence of the focusing illusion, which can be described in a single sentence: Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.