January 22, 2018

Book Thoughts | Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I’m not entirely sure that I can adequately review Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s so chock full of fantastic ideas, insights, and information that I’m afraid even trying to comment on it will make me look like a fool.

Let me just say, then, that Thinking Fast and Slow is absolutely fascinating, a book worth reading and rereading, especially if you’re of the self-improvement, self-examining type. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner for his work in Behavioral Economics has a fascinating mind, and I felt like I had a front-row seat to one of the most incredible lectures about decision-making, heuristics, and judgment that had ever been given.

And here’s where I start to worry about sounding like a fool: this just isn’t my field of expertise. Sure, I love learning and I consider myself to be, in many respects, an autodidact. But Thinking Fast and Slow is, if I’m not mistaken, a summary of all of Kahneman’s work from the last fifty years (or more?). It’s gobstoppingly dense with studies Kahneman and his fellow researchers have devised to examine who people think, and I quell the thought of trying to comment on it.

But I will gladly comment about it. Thinking Fast and Slow has been, over the weeks that I’ve been reading it, easily the book I’ve recommended most, and I admit having to suppress some excitement when someone tells me that they’ve ordered the book from Amazon. Even if you don’t like economics, or maybe especially if you don’t like economics, Kahneman’s research is accessible to anyone with even a modicum of interest in society, decision-making, or how we think and exercise judgment. Rather than describe the world in terms of complex equations and graphs–though there are certainly a lot of graphs–Kahneman seems to be constantly devising thought experiments to understand how and why people act in certain situations. What a life it must be to be Kahneman, self-tasked with identifying the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of any particular decision, whether it is discerning who the best candidates are for officer training from among a cadre of soldiers during field exercises, or figuring out how to redesign the food pyramid to be a food pie, there seems to be no end of topics or situations where behavioral economics can be applied with some revelatory success.

One part of especial interest to me was the section, near the end, when Kahneman begins to describe memory, pain, and suffering. If I understand right, Kahneman makes the point that research shows that it isn’t the measurement of pleasure, happiness, or well-being over the duration of an event–such as a surgery, marriage, or vacation–that matters so much as how the event ends that we remember. Even if the event was, for the most part, a wonderful or positive experience we still remember the event based on how it ends. Shakespeare might put this as “All’s well that ends well.” For me, it’s a paradigm-shifting insight about the importance not only of getting things right but also ending things right. How we remember things is, essentially, flawed, and what we are left with in memory often conflicts with what the experience was as a whole.

Anyway, Thinking Fast and Slow is a great book. Prospect theory, framing, reference points, loss versus gain, and more are all raised and addressed and explored, and I am sure I will return to it again soon. I think I probably read it far too quickly, too eager to absorb concepts, and I feel there’s more here to understand and examine.

About Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas. He is active on social media, Republican politics, and has been named to PoliticIt’s list of the “Top-50 Utah Political Opinion Leaders” on Twitter. You can reach him directly at dan.burton@gmail.com

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