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When you come late to the party, writing the 160th review, you have a certain freedom to write something as much for your own use as for other readers, confident that the review will be at the bottom of the pile.

Kahneman's thesis is that the human animal is systematically illogical. Not only do we mis-assess situations, but we do so following fairly predictable patterns. Moreover, those patterns are grounded in our primate ancestry.

The first observation, giving the title to the book, is that eons of natural selection gave us the ability to make a fast reaction to a novel situation. Survival depended on it. So, if we hear an unnatural noise in the bushes, our tendency is to run. Thinking slow, applying human logic, we might reflect that it is probably Johnny coming back from the Girl Scout camp across the river bringing cookies, and that running might not be the best idea. However, fast thinking is hardwired.

The first part of the book is dedicated to a description of the two systems, the fast and slow system. Kahneman introduces them in his first chapter as system one and system two.

Chapter 2 talks about the human energy budget. Thinking is metabolically expensive; 20 percent of our energy intake goes to the brain. Moreover, despite what your teenager tells you, dedicating energy to thinking about one thing means that energy is not available for other things. Since slow thinking is expensive, the body is programmed to avoid it.

Chapter 3 expands on this notion of the lazy controller. We don't invoke our slow thinking, system two machinery unless it is needed. It is expensive. As an example, try multiplying two two-digit numbers in your head while you are running. You will inevitably slow down. NB: Kahneman uses the example of multiplying two digit numbers in your head quite frequently. Most readers don't know how to do this. Check out "The Secrets of Mental Math" for techniques. Kahneman and myself being slightly older guys, we probably like to do it just to prove we still can. Whistling past the graveyard - we know full well that mental processes slow down after 65.

Chapter 4 - the associative machine - discusses the way the brain is wired to automatically associate words with one another and concepts with one another, and a new experience with a recent experience. Think of it as the bananas vomit chapter. Will you think of next time you see a banana?

Chapter 5 - cognitive ease. We are lazy. We don't solve the right problem, we solve the easy problem.

Chapter 6 - norms, surprises, and causes. A recurrent theme in the book is that although our brains do contain a statistical algorithm, it is not very accurate. It does not understand the normal distribution. We are inclined to expect more regularity than actually exists in the world, and we have poor intuition about the tail ends of the bell curve. We have little intuition at all about non-Gaussian distributions.

Chapter 7 - a machine for jumping to conclusions. He introduces a recurrent example. A ball and bat together cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? System one, fast thinking, leaps out with an answer which is wrong. It requires slow thinking to come up with the right answer - and the instinct to distrust your intuition.

Chapter 8 - how judgments happen. Drawing parallels across domains. If Tom was as smart as he is tall, how smart would he be?

Chapter 9 - answering an easier question. Some questions have no easy answer. "How do you feel about yourself these days?" Is harder to answer than "did you have a date last week?" If the date question is asked first, it primes an answer for the harder question.

Section 2 - heuristics and biases

Chapter 10 - the law of small numbers. In the realm of statistics there is a law of large numbers. The larger the sample size, the more accurate the statistical inference from measuring them. Conversely, a small sample size can be quite biased. I was in a study abroad program with 10 women, three of them over six feet. Could I generalize about the women in the University of Maryland student body? Conversely, I was the only male among 11 students and the only one over 60. Could they generalize anything from that? In both cases, not much.

Chapter 11 - anchors. A irrelevant notion is a hard thing to get rid of. For instance, the asking price of the house should have nothing to do with its value, but it does greatly influence bids.

Chapter 12 - the science of availability. If examples come easily to mind, we are more inclined to believe the statistic. If I know somebody who got mugged last year, and you don't, my assessment of the rate of street crime will probably be too high, and yours perhaps too low. Newspaper headlines distort all of our thinking about the probabilities of things like in and terrorist attacks. Because we read about it, it is available.

Chapter 13 - availability, emotion and risk. Continuation.

Chapter 14 - Tom W's specialty. This is about the tendency for stereotypes to override statistics. If half the students in the University area education majors, and only a 10th of a percent study mortuary science, the odds are overwhelming that any individual student is an education major. Nonetheless, if you ask about Tom W, a sallow gloomy type of guy, people will ignore the statistics and guess he is in mortuary science.

Chapter 15 - less is more. Linda is described as a very intelligent and assertive woman. What are the odds she is a business major? The odds that she is a feminist business major? Despite the mathematical impossibility, most people will think that the odds of the latter are greater than the former.

Chapter 16 - causes trump statistics. The most important aspect of this chapter is Bayesian analysis, which is so much second nature to Kahneman that he doesn't even describe it. The example he gives is a useful illustration.
* 85% of the cabs in the city are green, and 15% are blue.
* A witness identified the cab involved in a hit and run as blue.
* The court tested the witness' reliability, and the witness was able to correctly identify the correct color 80% of the time, and failed 20% of the time.
First, to go to the point. Given these numbers, most people will assume that the cab in the accident was blue because of the witness testimony. However, if we change the statement of the problem so that there is a 20% chance that the blue identification of the color was wrong, but 85% of the cabs involved in accidents are green, people will overwhelmingly say that the cab in the accident was a green madman. The problems are mathematically identical but the opinion is different.
Now the surprise. The correct answer is that there is a 41% chance that the cab involved in the accident was blue. Here's how we figure it out from Bayes theorem.
If the cab was blue, a 15% chance, and correctly identified, an 80% chance, the combined probability is .15 * .8 = .12, a 12% chance
If the cab was green, an 85% chance, and incorrectly identified, a 20% chance, the combined probability is .85 * .2 = .17, a 17% chance
Since the cab had to be either blue or green, the total probability of it being identified as blue, whether right or wrong, is .12 + .17 = .29. In other words, this witness could be expected to identify the cab as blue 29% of the time whether she was right or wrong.
The chances she was right are .12 out of .29, or 41%. Recommend that you cut and paste this, because Bayes theorem is cited fairly often, and is kind of hard to understand. It may be simple for Kahneman, but it is not for his average reader, I am sure.

Chapter 17 - regression to the mean. If I told you I got an SAT score of 750 you could assume that I was smart, or that I was lucky, or some combination. The average is only around 500. The chances are little bit of both, and if I take a test a second time I will get a lower score, not because I am any stupider but because your first observation of me wasn't exactly accurate. This is called regression to the mean. It is not about the things you are measuring, it is about the nature of measurement instruments. Don't mistake luck for talent.

Chapter 18 - taming intuitive predictions. The probability of the occurrence of an event which depends on a number of prior events is the cumulative probability of all those prior events. The probability of a smart grade school kid becoming a Rhodes scholar is a cumulative probability of passing a whole series of hurdles: studying hard, excelling in high school, avoiding drink and drugs, parental support and so on. The message in this chapter is that we tend to overestimate our ability to project the future.

Part three - overconfidence

Chapter 19 - the illusion of understanding. Kahneman introduces another potent concept, "what you see is all there is," thereinafter WYSIATI. We make judgments on the basis of the knowledge we have, and we are overconfident about the predictive value of that observation. To repeat their example, we see the tremendous success of Google. We discount the many perils which could have totally derailed the company along the way, including the venture capitalist who could have bought it all for one million dollars but thought the price was too steep.

Chapter 20 - The illusion of validity. Kahneman once again anticipates a bit more statistical knowledge than his readers are likely to have. The validity of a measure is the degree to which an instrument measures what it purports to measure. You could ask a question such as whether the SAT is a valid measure of intelligence. The answer is, not really, because performance on the SAT depends quite a bit on prior education and previous exposure to standardized tests. You could ask whether the SAT is a valid predictor of performance in college. The answer there is that it is not very good, but nonetheless it is the best available predictor. It is valid enough because there is nothing better. To get back to the point, we are inclined to assume measurements are more valid than they are, in other words, to overestimate our ability to predict based on measurements.

Chapter 21 - intuitions versus formulas. The key anecdote here is about a formula for predicting the quality of a French wine vintage. The rule of thumb formula beat the best French wine experts. Likewise, mathematical algorithms for predicting college success are as least as successful, and much cheaper, than long interviews with placement specialists.

Chapter 22 - expert intuition, when can we trust it? The short answer to this is, in situations in which prior experience is quite germane to new situations and there is some degree of predictability, and also an environment which provides feedback so that the experts can validate their predictions. He would trust the expert intuition of a firefighter; there is some similarity among fires, and the firemen learns quickly about his mistakes. He would not trust the intuition of a psychiatrist, whose mistakes may not show up for years.

Chapter 23 - the outside view. The key notion here is that people within an institution, project, or any endeavor tend to let their inside knowledge blind them to things an outsider might see. We can be sure that most insiders in Enron foresaw nothing but success. An outsider, having seen more cases of off-balance-sheet accounting and the woes it can cause, would have had a different prediction.

Chapter 24 - the engine of capitalism. This is a tour of decision-making within the capitalist citadel. It should destroy the notion that there are CEOs who are vastly above average, and also the efficient markets theory. Nope. The guys in charge often don't understand, and more important, they are blind to their own lack of knowledge.

Part four - choices

This is a series of chapters about how people make decisions involving money and risk. In most of the examples presented there is a financially optimal alternative. Many people will not find that alternative because of the way the problem is cast and because of the exogenous factors. Those factors include:

Marginal utility. Another thousand dollars is much less important to a millionaire than a wage slave.

Chapter 26 - Prospect theory: The bias against loss. Losing $1000 causes pain out of proportion to the pleasure of winning $1000.

Chapter 27 - The endowment effect. I will not pay as much to acquire something as I would demand if I already owned it and were selling.

Chapter 28 - Bad Events. We will take unreasonable risk when all the alternatives are bad. Pouring good money after bad, the sunk cost effect, is an example.

Chapter 29 - The fourfold pattern. High risk, low risk, win, lose. Human nature is to make choices which are not mathematically optimal: buying lottery tickets and buying unnecessary insurance.

Chapter 30 - rare events. Our minds are not structured to assess the likelihood of rare events. We overestimate the visible ones, such as tsunamis and terrorist attacks, and ignore the ones of which we are unaware.

Chapter 31 - Risk policies. This is about systematizing our acceptance of risk and making policies. As a policy, should we buy insurance or not, recognizing that there are instances in which we may override the policy. As a policy, should we accept the supposedly lower risk of buying mutual funds, even given the management fees?

Chapter 32 - keeping score. This is about letting the past influence present decisions. The classic example is people who refuse to sell for a loss, whether shares of stock or a house.

Chapter 33 - reversals. We can let a little negative impact a large positive. One cockroach in a crate of strawberries.

Chapter 34 - Frames and reality. How we state it. 90% survival is more attractive than 10% mortality.

Part V. Two selves: Experience and memory

Our memory may be at odds with our experience at the time. Mountain climbing or marathon running are sheer torture at the time, but the memories are exquisite. We remember episodes such as childbirth by the extreme of pain, not the duration.

Lift decision: do we live life for the present experience, or the anticipated memories? Are we hedonists, or Japanese/German tourists photographing everything to better enjoy the memories?
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on April 1, 2017
Content is interesting, but as other reviewers point out, do not buy the Kindle version, because links often don't work, and many images and footnotes seem to be lost.
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on November 17, 2011
Back in 1994, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Director of the Institute of San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, wrote a charming little book about common cognitive distortions called Inevitable Illusions. It is probably the very first comprehensive summary of behavioral economics intended for general audience. In it, he predicted that the two psychologists behind behavioral economics - Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman - would win the Nobel prize. I didn't disagree with the sentiment, but wondered how in the world were they going to get it since these two were psychologists and there is no Nobel prize in psychology. I didn't think there was much chance of them winning the Nobel Prize in economics. I was wrong and Piattelli-Palmarini was right. Kahneman won the Nobel prize in Economic Sciences. (Tversky unfortunately prematurely passed away by this time.) Just as Steve Jobs who was not in the music industry revolutionized it, the non-economists Kahneman and Tversky have revolutionized economic thinking. I have known Kahneman's work for quite some time and was quite excited to see that he was coming out with a non-technical version of his research. My expectations for the book were high and I wasn't disappointed.

Since other reviewers have given an excellent summary of the book, I will be brief in my summary but review the book more broadly.

The basis thesis of the book is simple. In judging the world around us, we use two mental systems: Fast and Slow. The Fast system (System 1) is mostly unconscious and makes snap judgments based on our past experiences and emotions. When we use this system we are as likely to be wrong as right. The Slow system (System 2) is rational, conscious and slow. They work together to provide us a view of the world around us.

So what's the problem? They are incompatible, that's what.

System 1 is fast, but easily swayed by emotions and can be as easily be wrong as be right. You buy more cans of soup when the display says "Limit 12 per customer". We are on autopilot with this system. System 1 controls an amazing array of behavior. System 2 is conscious, rational and careful but painfully slow. It's distracted and hard to engage. These two systems together provide a backdrop for our cognitive biases and achievements.

This very well written book will enlighten and entertain the reader, especially if the reader is not exposed to the full range of research relating to behavioral economics.

This book serves an antidote to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. Although Gladwell never says that snap judgments are infallible and cannot badly mislead us, many readers got a different message. As the Royal Statistical Society's Significance magazine put it "Although Gladwell's chronicle of cognition shows how quick thinking can lead us both astray and aright, for many readers Blink has become a hymn to the hunch." While Kahneman does show how "fast thinking" can lead to sound judgments, he also notes how they can lead us astray. This point is made much more clearly and deliberately in Kahneman's book

All my admiration for the brilliance and creativity of Kahneman (and Tversky) does not mean that I accept 100% of their thesis. Consider this oft-quoted study. Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. As a student, she was deeply concerned with the issues of discrimination and social justice, and she also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?
1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
Eighty-five percent of test subjects chose the second option, that Linda was a bank teller and active in the feminist movement. Kahneman's interpretation is that this opinion is wrong because the probability of a (random) woman being a bank teller is greater that than person's being a bank teller AND a feminist. What Kahneman overlooks here is that what most people answered may not be the question that was asked. The respondents may not have been concerned with mathematical probabilities, but rather could be responding to the question in reverse: Is it more likely for a current activist to have been an activist in the past compared to others in the profession? A more formal and theoretically better argued rebuttal of some of Kahneman's hypotheses can be found in the works of Gerd Gigerenzer.

Kahneman notes that even top performers in business and sports tend to revert to the mean in the long run. As a result, he attributes success largely to luck. I'm not so convinced of this. There can be alternative explanations. People who achieve high degree of success are also exposed to a high degree of failure and the reversion to the mean may be attributable to this possible mirror effect. Spectacular success may go with spectacular failure and run-of-the-mill success may go with run-of-the-mill failure. Eventually everyone may revert the mean, but the ride can be very different. Chance may not account for that.

Another concern is that much of the work is done in artificial settings (read college students). While much of what we learnt can perhaps be extended to the real world, it is doubtful every generalization will work in practice. Some may find Kahneman's endorsement of "libertarian paternelism," not acceptable. More importantly, when applied to the real world it did not always found to work.

In spite to these comments this book is written carefully in a rather humble tone. I also appreciated Kahneman's generous and unreserved acknowledgement of Tversky's contributions and his conviction that, had he been alive, Tversky would have been the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize. My cautionary comments probably have more to do with the distortions that might arise by those who uncritically generalize the findings to contexts for which they may not applicable. As mentioned earlier, the wide misinterpretation of Gladwell's Blink comes to mind.

Nevertheless, Thinking Fast and Slow is a very valuable book by one of the most creative minds in psychology. Highly recommended. For a more complete and critical understanding, I also recommend the writings of the critics of behavioral economic models such as Gerd Gigerenzer.

PS. After I published this review, I noticed an odd coincidence between Thinking Fast and Slow and Inevitable Illusions that I mentioned in my opening paragraph. Both books have white covers, with an image of a sharpened yellow pencil with an eraser top. How odd is that?
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on March 20, 2015
This book is good in describing the different portions of the mind and how the influence thinking and decision making. My only real complaint with the book is that the points could have been made in a couple hundred less pages.

Basic thesis is you have two parts to your brain, the fast, intuitive piece that is easy to confuse and highly subject to bias, suggestion, and past experience. And you have the other part of your brain that is more deliberate, slower, and lazy. Sometimes the fast part of your brain will offer up an erroneous suggestion that your slow brain will accept because it's lazy and the solution seems plausible.

And then there's a bunch of information on different types of biases and influences that can lead to wrong thinking.

Bottom line, often times if you go with your gut feeling without thinking through things deliberately you will be wrong or less right than you otherwise would be.
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on November 8, 2016
Truly a gem. So many interesting and obviously applicable studies. No oversimplification and lots of practical suggestions for implementing the findings in your own life. I help students prepare for standardized tests sometimes, and I now use the bat and ball problem regularly to illustrate the importance of checking your work. Regression to the mean is a useful concept as well. In fact, I challenge you to read it and not walk away thinking, "There are so many useful concepts here, I hope I remember them all!"
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I bought this for my son, an economics professor at a top 10 liberal arts college. He liked it so much he loaned it to another professor. Then he decided he needed another copy.
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on January 26, 2015
It is difficult to pen a review for a book written by a nobel laurate and highly rated by all. Let me give it a shot nonetheless.
If I was to summarise the long hours I took to complete this book , it is just two things – first , don’t jump to conclusions else the conclusions are going to jump on you and second, variability is largely about luck, don’t get into an analysis paralysis whenever something goes wrong due to some odd variables. There are numerous experiments which Daniel has mentioned in the book, but frankly after about 50% of the book, my patience gave way and I started skimming the content just to catch the main message. One good thing about the book is that at the end of every chapter, Daniel has given some real life examples of how the various theories manifests and can impact out thought process. I used that to see which chapter to focus on more.
Some of my takeaways from this books are:
a) Not to take critical decisions when the members are fatigued – most probably the decision will be one on the safest route
b) Using the priming phenomenon to best effect as also the reciprocal links
c) Anchoring effect - though it is widely used and many may not realise about such an effect, but can be better used for setting targets
d) Less is more – can have very interesting commercial aspects
e) Illusory skill – I always doubted the capabilities of the so called stock experts , all they trade in is the information , otherwise stock trading is a zero sum game
f) Reference point in negotiations
I am sure there must be more which I missed while skipping pages, as I found detailed reading a heavy stretch on my will power and I read earlier in a similar book that will power is not endless, so I thought might as well conserve it as long as possible.
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Daniel Kahneman is a renowned psychologist, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics. His work (and that of his late partner, Amos Tversky), and that of a network of colleagues in a similar path, has had an effect on how we see human decision-making. In the social sciences and economics, rationality is a key assumption about human thinking. Kahneman and Tversky and others have put that assumption in the cross hairs of their research. Indeed, some of my own research in political thinking by American citizens is based on this body of work.

In this work, Kahneman begins by noting two systems of thinking. System 1 is automatic, quick, and intuitive. It is decision making by shortcuts. Normally, it works fairly well, but it can also lead to bad decisions. When the stakes are low, even the downside isn't too bad. For major decisions? Well, that can be problematic. The operations of System 2 are (Page 21) "often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration." This is the realm of reason and conscious thinking. System 1 tends to be nonconscious.

Part I considers more deeply the operation of Systems 1 and 2. We learn, for example, that System 2 can be lazy and let System 1 "do its thing" without conscious control over those processes.

Part II addresses biases in decision making. This includes the operation of decision making shortcuts, or "heuristics." These are tools that assist decision making and make it quick and easy--and sometimes very wrong. For instance, the law of small numbers. Many people are very confident that judgments that they make based upon a few examples are apt to be correct--even though there is scant statistical indication of this. We do not easily think in terms of probability and statistics. Or availability. We often make decisions based on what pops into our short term memory first, that which is most "available" for retrieval. Or regression to the mean. If someone scores extremely high on the GREs, it is common that the next test would result in lower scores. Why? Many times, very high scores are the result of good luck. Reality will return in such cases, as the next score is likely to revert to a more normal result.

Part III? A series of chapters on overconfidence. It is disconcerting to realize that a lot of our decisions are based on shortcuts that can sometimes go way wrong. Worse, there is plenty of research that shows that once people make decisions, they become overconfident in how good those decisions are. Part IV examines choices. One of the more powerful aspects of Kahneman's and Tversky's work is "prospect theory." Once more, we see skewed decision making at work--far from the realm of rational cost benefit calculators. One key finding here: People tend to be risk averse when they are in positive ground; people are risk takers in negative situations. Example: If you are getting an A in a course and anticipate that that will be your final grade, you are unlikely to cheat. Why? You have a lot to lose and little to gain. On the other hand, if you're facing a D or F, you are, according to many studies, more apt to cheat. The relevance? Some urge being touch on cheaters as a way of deterring academic dishonesty. But someone who is in bad shape to begin with is less likely to be deterred in such a circumstance.

The last part is a reflection on the meaning of all that went before. Also helpful is that some of the major pieces of research are attached as appendices. These may be slow going for some people, but if the reader can wade through them, they get a good sense of how this book came to its conclusions.

A very fine book, well written, that makes important research accessible to a larger audience.
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on May 17, 2016
What do you get when you combine a master-psychologist and a master story-teller? Daniel Kahneman has written an absolute masterpiece for anyone with even the most rudimentary interest in the complexities of the mind. He describes the workings of what he calls System 1 and System 2 thinking in a way that can be easily understood by non-scholars and yet sensationally profound for readers who regularly consume works on neuroscience and cognitive behavior. Reading the book was honestly awe-inspiring. Peter Smith, Author, Hiring Squirrels
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VINE VOICEon June 18, 2014
Thinking, Fast, and Slow examines the way people think within various perspectives that exceeds basic observations but focuses upon two major components of comparison, system 1 and system 2, e.g. x and y or the "yin and yang" to approaching a problem and coming to an outcome of understanding. Within the framework of two specializations, psychology and economics, Noble Laureate Daniel Kahneman takes a similar approach to Malcolm Gladwell's method of there is more than one way to looking at a situation. However, Kahneman extensively blends the Gladwell approach of cases studies and word problems and includes assessments and calculated and statistical data that he has conducted or recollected during early studies in his career and within recent times. The book runs the gamut of human psychology and behavioral economics, and when this is translated, judgment and decision-making.

The book has an array of examples that will definitely make the reader think. And one of the approaches that Kahneman stresses is hedonic psychology or the "yin and yang" of thinking as it relates to arriving to a result between system 1 and system 2, and when good and bad or desirable or undesirable elements are present. He also explains other interesting thought provoking scenarios about past and present events and how the core of illusion may involve intuitions and the way one recalls and perceives a future outcome, that is reliant upon the language one uses to re-interpret the events. And another example that he discusses in the book is the 20/20 hindsight scenario that pertains to decision-making and the individuals that hold much responsibility to the outcome of how decisions are made, the so-called "agents" that vary by field and profession, for example, physicians, financial advisers, CEOs, social workers, diplomats, and politicians. They and many more that were not mentioned carry a mixed blessing or risk taking element in the hindsight and outcome bias (204).

In essence, Thinking, Fast, and Slow shows the interesting factors to how problems may be solved and decisions may be made. The book contains an immense amount of information that may be helpful to any curious reader.
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