Dan Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow: The Cognitive Science Bible

How and why do we think, act, judge, make decisions and learn?

In the last few decades, the progress we’ve made in understanding the human mind — both the biology of the brain and how we think — is beyond belief.  It is Dan Kahneman we have to thank in large part for how far we’ve come with the latter.

A lifetime fascination with the human cognition, combined with years of collaboration with other great names in Psychology has made Kahneman one of the most respected Psychologists and writers in History. And with this book its easy to see why.

It is largely accepted by scientists now that we have two types of cognition, two types of thinking. You may be familiar: when you learn to drive it’s hard, slow and you have to think all the time, but as you get more experienced it becomes almost effortless, you stop thinking about it — Kahneman calls this ‘system 1’ thinking; comparatively, when you’re faced with an algebra equation, or you’re trying to decode your pay slip, you have to think hard, you have to focus — he calls this ‘system 2’ thinking. This simple dichotomisation Kahneman employs throughout the book, and in doing so he makes cognition so simple to understand, its almost laughable. He uses these labels to explain how and why we make decisions, are influenced, behave the way we do, get emotional and learn.

By giving the two types of cognition the names ‘system 1’ and ‘system 2’, he points out that doing so is likely to send some psychologists into uproar — because the mind is too complex and what we know is not yet refined; dividing cognition this way is overlooking a huge proportion of both what we know and don’t know. This may be true to some degree: perhaps there is a ton more to discover, perhaps we are only at the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps we’ve got it all wrong. Time will tell. But for now, Kanheman’s system 1 and 2 — and his explanations, examples and stories — are brilliant metaphors to help wrap your head around this compelling subject.

You’ll also find tips, advice and mini-exercises dotted throughout that can help you become a better ’slow’ thinker. However, Kahneman is of firm belief that knowing all of this theory cannot actually do much for your thinking; in other words, he believes that you cannot actually change the way you make decisions, think, are influenced, etc — because this thinking is done automatically. I beg to differ. Not from a theoretical standpoint, but from personal experience; reading this book has tellingly increased my self-awareness, my judgement of others, my decision making and basically, how I think. Kahneman says that it’s not possible to change your system 1, but what I think he means is that it is very hard and most people will be unable to do it. If we had to think about everything we did — brushing teeth, putting on clothes, driving, answering basic math sums, blinking, speaking, etc — we’d be paralysed, paralysed by our own unique ability. Retraining, or simply bringing how your system 1 thinks is difficult, mentally draining and will take time. What this book does, over time is teach you to catch yourself in moments of thought, and if possible, make better decisions

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman has put together all of his career’s findings, years of experience and deep expertise, and delivered to the world a masterpiece. To call it his magnum opus is tempting — for this is what catapulted his name to the world outside of psychology — but such a label is both an understatement and inaccurate; Kahneman has published an array of papers throughout his career, many of which were significant in changing how people thought about, well, thinking, and repositioning the way Psychologists think about cognition. A better way to think of this book is as his oeuvre, or maybe, just maybe, as the bible of Psychology.

Leave a Reply