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BOOK REVIEW
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 331-332

Thinking Fast and Slow


Operations Research, Fellow - Royal Statistical Society, President: Nuvis Analytics Pvt. Ltd., India

Date of Web Publication26-Jul-2012

Correspondence Address:
C R Sridhar
Operations Research, Fellow - Royal Statistical Society, President: Nuvis Analytics Pvt. Ltd.
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


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How to cite this article:
Sridhar C R. Thinking Fast and Slow. J Can Res Ther 2012;8:331-2

How to cite this URL:
Sridhar C R. Thinking Fast and Slow. J Can Res Ther [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Apr 5];8:331-2. Available from: http://www.cancerjournal.net/text.asp?2012/8/2/331/99011


Author: Daniel Kahneman

Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux

Publications date: 2010

Genre(s): Non Fiction Psychology

ISBN: 978037427563

Price: ` 495/-






Sometimes we think quickly and sometimes we think very slowly and sometimes we find it difficult to think, this is what we all have experienced in our daily life. When you are driving and see a cyclist taking off in front of your car, you instantly press the brakes hard and hope that the car comes to a halt and not hit the cyclist. But, when you want to buy a 52 inch television you take a long time to decide whether you should buy the TV or not, which brand to buy and whether it should be an LED, LCD, or Plasma TV. The brain manages all these decisions quite efficiently. We sometimes wonder: why does the brain use slow thinking some times and fast thinking the other times? This is the question that Daniel Kahneman answers in his latest book: Thinking fast and slow. The answer seems to be simple but to arrive at this answer he and his fellow researchers go through several years of experimentation, brain storming, thinking, and some soul searching. Their journey, in search of the answers to slow-fast thinking, itself is quite interesting and much of it is recorded in this book.

Daniel Kahneman is one of the foremost psychologists and a Nobel Prize winner in behavioral economics. He and his close friend Amos Tversky have contributed an enormous amount of knowledge to the analysis of decision making under risk and under uncertainty. This book captures their earlier work and the current advances in psychology to form a framework for analyzing thinking fast and slow.

System 1 and System 2 are two modules, hypothetical and well-known in psychology, which exist in every human being. System 1 survives on associative memory and responds to situations very quickly and is often wrong. System 2 relies more on thinking, logic, and structure, but is lazy and operates only when System 1 is unable to address a problem successfully. System 1 is quick and spontaneous and System 2 is slow and deliberate and is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains. To recognize edible food served by a host, we do not require the functioning of System 2 but to control commenting on the quality of a dish requires the interference of System 2. Because, if the food served is not to our liking the response of System 1 would be to state it upfront and upset the host. However, prudence suggests that we desist from stating the fact but modify the punch. Prudence exists in System 2. Kahneman provides a number of examples to illustrate the functioning of System 1 and System 2, where they cooperate and where they clash. The examples are based on responses to simple questions asked to respondents. Many of these questions and the answers provided by the respondents are real eye openers.

One of the interesting concepts that Kahneman discusses is that of Priming. Priming refers to an unconscious human response primed by sight and sound. One of the most famous of these priming experiments is the "Florida Effect". In this experiment respondents were first exposed to words that were associated with old age and then they were asked to walk a short distance to another room to answer another set of questions. When the time taken to walk the distance was compared with a control it was found that the experimental subjects took more time to reach. They were primed by words associated with old age and walked like old people! We are primed every day and our behavior is consciously controlled by media, politicians, film stars, and advertisers. The knowledge that Priming Effect and cognitive ease are connected is very useful for manipulating human response.

The second set of modules, conceptual again, presented by Kahneman is Econs and Humans. These two characters were originally introduced by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein and Kahneman extends the original understanding of these two hypothetical characters in the framework of his Prospect Theory. Econs have a dominant System 2 and Humans System 1. The behavioral analysis of Econs and Humans constitutes a major contribution in Behavioral Economics and forms the basis of many government policies in the Western World. The current war on Health Care, primed by using the prefix Obama, is largely an issue that pits one against the other. Kahneman's major contribution to behavioral economics is the Prospect Theory, an extension of the Utility Theory, and that is discussed in great detail in the chapters that deal with Econs and Humans.

The last of the modules discussed in the book is "Two Selves", the experiencing self and the remembering self. These two concepts emerge naturally from Utility Theory, a popular theory in economics. These two are differentiated by memory and experience. To illustrate these two selves let us look at a set of humans who when given an option of moderate pain for a long time and a strong pain for a short time, most would prefer a long duration of moderate pain. The author succinctly explains that "Confusing experience with memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion - and it is the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined. The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keep score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximise the qualities of future memories, not necessarily the future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self"

The book consists of about 500 pages and is moderately difficult to read because of the number of concepts that are introduced to explain human behavior. The experiments described are simple to understand, appreciate since they need no strong technical background in any sciences of psychology or economics. There are a number of concepts introduced under each frame work of the three modules of systems, persona, and self. The book's bias is really behavioral economics and the focus is on explaining how people decide and make their choices. Luckily the reader needs no Economic Theory to understand and appreciate the material.

It is not possible to read 'Thinking fast and slow' quickly. It needs a slow and concentrated effort to assimilate the concepts and conclusions. That really is the best way to appreciate the deep insights in to human behavior in decision situations.




 

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