Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

We went through this book with British writer/academic/psychologist Dylan Evans. He was visiting UFM for a semester, and we were lucky enough to have him as the facilitator for this epicycle.

With this book we dove, once again, into the nature of mind and thought. Kahneman proposes two ways in which we form thoughts, systems 1 and 2, the fast, intuitive, subconscious one, and the slow, analytical, conscious one. But we’re not always using the right system at the right time, we’re often lazy because using system 2 requires more effort.

Why we should be using system 2 more

Not using system 2 when we should makes us cognitively biased, it alters our judgement in a negative way. For instance, when people were asked how much money they would give to save say 1, 200, 5000 and 250000 pigeons, the difference in willingness to pay was of a higher difference between 1 and 200, than between 5000 and 250000. We think with system 1, we are not logical, statistical.
And it’s exactly this type of logical, analytical thinking, that has brought so much progress to humanity. The base for mathematics and for any science is logical thinking, but we’re sometimes too lazy to do it.

“Buddhists are a Darwinian dead-end”

One of Dylan’s most memorable phrases (to me at least) was ‘Buddhists are a Darwinian dead-end’. He said this referring to how Buddhists work a lifetime to reduce their system 2 thinking, they want to just be, give themselves completely to system 1. But how terrible is this really?

Why we should be using system 1 more

Ever had one of those epic ‘Aha moments’? Does it feel more like it was the work of system 1 or 2? They’re always instantaneous, like something just clicked. Creativity and Innovation are the work of system 1, kind of. They would never happen without the hard work of system 2 behind them, but if we want to have more of those iconic moments where suddenly ideas have sex, we need to turn our focus to system 1. But this is one of the hardest questions to answer, how can I strengthen my system 1? Buddhism just might be the answer.
There is one more important reason to be using system 1 more, and it’s ironically to rest our brain so that it can focus on system 2 thinking afterwards. There are a lot of activities we start doing using our system 2, but then slowly transfer them to system 1, like driving to work for example. At first, we needed to think about every single step, but now we do it in automatic mode almost. The more activities we can transfer to system 1, the more time we will be able to dedicate to the more exhaustive kind of thinking.

The artist’s dilemma

Thinking with system 1 is linked to being happy, while system 2 is linked to being depressed. The sadder we are, the slower we think, or the more analytical we are of situations. The artist’s dilemma is that in order to create great art, you need to be creative, use your system 1, but you need to be insightful and a great thinker as well, use your system 2.
A good conclusion, and one that I believe we see in life, is that the people that make great artists are those who have strong mood swings. Think of Thom Yorke, Nietzsche, or Van Gogh.

What I learned

We need to be more metacognitive about our thinking processes. Catch ourselves thinking intuitively when we shouldn’t, analysing too much when we should be more intuitive. We need to understand ourselves better, know ourselves a little better, to be able to be more efficient and precise in thought.
Understanding how people think fast and slow is also very helpful to understand others, why they act in certain ways, or how they come up with particular ideas. How we can improve our rhetoric to communicate more in synch with how people perceive information. This book relates strongly with advertising, psychology, economics, and biology, but most of all, with the eternal question of how can we understand others, and ourselves, better.

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