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Book Review - Thinking Fast and Slow

2019-06-15

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman is a book that is worth reading. While there is an apparent difficulty in the social sciences with regards to reproducing studies (I’m not that familiar with this but it comes up frequently in discussions and articles on Hacker News) and this book references studies which come from psychology and other areas, I still feel like it was worth reading.

Kahneman’s writing style is very readable, and while a few of the topics can be confusing, he explains them clearly and in simple terms, making the book accessible for anyone. It is a slightly long book, and it took me over a month to read it as I would read a chapter or two and put it away, but unlike other books that I forget about after starting, I kept picking this one up again.

Kahneman covers a lot of ground in the book. I’m pretty sure I’ve already forgotten most of it, but if I had to boil it down I think it says that as a lot, humans in general are poor at thinking statistically, and our decision making is frequently predictably wrong when viewed through the lens of an economist. The book details quite a few patterns of how we interpret information and how we tend to act on it. It struck me as true if a little generalized, and also struck me as especially relevant navigating a marketing and advertisement driven consumer world.

By exploring a constructed framework of how the mind works, broken down into two systems, Kahneman interprets the results of studies and experiments detailing how the systems interact to form beliefs and intuitions which we act upon. He provides ample examples of situations which support the narrative, and going through the book and participating in the example questions, you can easily see what he is talking about.

The book has an entire section devoted to “overconfidence” which is interesting in itself. While you would probably get your money’s worth from reading just a few chapters of this book, this section struck me as relevant in a work context. If you’ve ever seen a project take longer than anticipated, or optimistic plans go astray, you may find some answers here.

In my opinion the last section of the book, “Two Selves”, is perhaps the most important, and thought provoking, as it explores the difference between the experiencing self and the remembering self. While it’s great to read a book that is basically a detailed study of why we don’t act like Spock, this last part, at least for me, provided a little impetus to explore perhaps the most important reason to think better.

This book isn’t a self help book at all, it simply offers an explanation and analysis of thinking and decisions. Being like Spock will not make you the life of a party, but it may help you be more logical.

There are lots of books on the brain and thinking, and this certainly is a useful book to read and be exposed to.