Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahnemann

Second paragraph of third chapter:

System 2 also has a natural speed. You expend some mental energy in random thoughts and in monitoring what goes on around you even when your mind does nothing in particular, but there is little strain. Unless you are in a situation that makes you unusually wary or self-conscious, monitoring what happens in the environment or inside your head demands little effort. You make many small decisions as you drive your car, absorb some information as you read the newspaper, and conduct routine exchanges of pleasantries with a spouse or a colleague, all with little effort and no strain. Just like a stroll.

This is the second of three books on human behaviour which I read over the last few months and am writing up this week. This one was recommended to me by Andrew Watson, and I got it as part of my belated birthday spending of Amazon vouchers.

Kahnemann won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2002, for his work on prospect theory, which is one of many topics covered in this book. He is consistently generous to co-workers, and admits to earlier mistakes, which makes him come across as a modest and pleasant person. This is just as well, because his central thesis is an unwelcome one: we are usually wrong, most of the time, for deep-rooted hard-wired reasons, and all he can really do is explain why.

His fundamental point is that our brains work in two different ways – System 1, which is instinctive, emotional, and easy, and System 2, which is logical, calculating, and difficult. When we make choices, we tend to frame those choices and the situation in a way that biases our thinking without us realising it – System 2 seduced by System 1, as it were. And when we look back, we remember things quite differently to how we experienced them, and that too biases our future decisions.

I found it all fascinating, and there are lessons here for anyone trying to persuade other people as part of their daily lives – in particular, many sales techniques are actually well supported by Kahnemann’s research, a case of practice and theory coinciding. Very strongly recommended.