Daniel Kahneman-Thinking, Fast and Slow; 533 Pages.
Every author, I suppose, has in mind a setting in which readers of his or her work could benefit from having read it. Mine is the proverbial office watercooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged. I hope to enrich the vocabulary that people use when they talk about the
judgments and choices of others, the company’s new policies, or a
colleague’s investment decisions. Why be concerned with gossip?
Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and
label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own. Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it, but we can benefit from the informed opinions
of others. Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated
judgments therefore matters. The expectation of intelligent gossip is a
powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year
resolutions to improve one’s decision making at work and at home.
To be a good diagnostician, a physician needs to acquire a large set of
labels for diseases, each of which binds an idea of the illness and its
symptoms, possible antecedents and causes, possible developments and
consequences, and possible interventions to cure or mitigate the illness.
Learning medicine consists in part of learning the language of medicine. A
deeper understanding of judgments and choices also requires a richer
vocabulary than is available in everyday language. The hope for informed
gossip is that there are distinctive patterns in the errors people make. Systematic errors are known as biases, and they recur predictably in
particular circumstances. When the handsome and confident speaker
bounds onto the stage, for example, you can anticipate that the audience will judge his comments more favorably than he deserves. The availability
of a diagnostic label for this bias—the halo effect—makes it easier to
anticipate, recognize, and understand. When you are asked what you are thinking about, you can normally
answer. You believe you know what goes on in your mind, which often
consists of one conscious thought leading in an orderly way to another. But
that is not the only way the mind works, nor indeed is that the typical way. Most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without
your knowing how they got there. You cannot tracryd>e how you came to
the belief that there is a lamp on the desk in front of you, or how you
detected a hint of irritation in your spouse’s voice on the telephone, or how
you managed to avoid a threat on the road before you became consciously
aware of it. The mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in silence in our mind. Much of the discussion in this book is about biases of intuition. However,
the focus on error does not denigrate human intelligence, any more than
the attention to diseases in medical texts denies good health. Most of us
are healthy most of the time, and most of our judgments and actions are
appropriate most of the time. As we navigate our lives, we normally allow
ourselves to be guided by impressions and feelings, and the confidence we have in our intuitive beliefs and preferences is usually justified. But not
always. We are often confident even when we are wrong, and an objective
observer is more likely to detect our errors than we are. So this is my aim for watercooler conversations: improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgment and choice, in others and
eventually in ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to
discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest
an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgments and choices often
Happy reading, Cheers!