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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Throughout the 400 or so pages of Thinking fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman shows us how much more goes on behind our eyes than we realize. We also learn strategies to avoid making big mistakes in both our work and personal lives. The lessons taught in his book will significantly affect how you think and lead you to question more and intuit with more accuracy. Based on over four decades of study and research into biases, the psychology of judgment, decision-making, and behavioral economics, Kahneman sheds light on how we come to conclusions throughout our life and what prompts the intuitions we use for decision making. He reveals that we need first to understand our minds' workings to make better decisions and understand the impact of our biases. In doing so, decision-makers will be able to make better choices as we, their critics, will judge them more fairly on how they come to these conclusions rather than just the outcomes of them.

Two inter-dependent personalities in a single mind

At the beginning of his book, Kahneman introduces two aspects of our minds – System 1 and System 2 – and invites us to think of these as different personalities embodied within us. Neither system is embodied in a particular area of the brain. Each system functions using a variety of locations throughout our grey matter.

System 1 is our automatic, fast, and unconscious thought. It cannot be turned off; it does not need a conscious direction to function. System 1 creates our impressions, intuitions, and supplies System 2 with information to aid its conscious decisions. The instigator of biases, System 1 is also responsible for several functions that get us safely through our day.

Detecting one object is further away than another, orienting us to the source of sounds, completing simple, common phrases, automatic expressions of disgust at horrible images, detecting hostility in voices, answers to simple equations, reading words on a large billboard, and recognizing stereotypical resemblances are all functions attributed to System 1.

System 2 is how we think of as 'me.' To function, it requires our attention, and it is disrupted when our focus is drawn elsewhere. While System 2 can discern information and figure out answers to difficult questions, it's often lazy and defers to System 1 if it can.

Examples of System 2's work include bracing for a starter's gun in a race, focusing on a singular voice in a crowded room, looking for a specific person in a crowded space, and monitoring behavior in social situations. System 2 completes tax forms, checks the validity of complex arguments, and can also change System 1 works by programming ordinarily automatic functions of attention and memory.

Intensely focusing activates System 2 and can effectively make us temporarily blind or deaf to stimuli that would typically attract our attention. An excellent, amusing experiment – the Invisible Gorilla Movie – was able to prove this. A short clip of people dressed in two different colors passed a ball between them. Viewers were asked to count how many times people wearing a particular color received or passed the ball. Participants who managed the task completely missed seeing the person dressed in a gorilla suit walk into the shot, beat their chest several times, and exit the scene.

System 2 doesn't manage multiple distinct choices or inputs at once very well. However, it can hold conflicting ideas and information in focus simultaneously, and it enables us to follow rules.

While System 1 might be imperfect for making decisions and influencing behavior – particularly for suiting social situations, we couldn't do without it. System 1 is as necessary as System 2 we think of as being who we are.

Finding a happy balance