Some of us do, but most of us don’t, have an attention shortage. We know how to pay attention. Indeed, these days, we try to pay attention to too many things at once. For example: texting while ordering a mocha, fumbling through a wallet for a credit card, bantering with the person in line behind us, and hearing the coffee barista call out: “Latte for Linda, ready at the bar!” as an ambulance screams by outside and we wonder what happened and who’s inside.
At many moments, our immediate thought processes are badly fragmented by our surroundings, our choices and the expanding reach of our technology. And other things likely may be going on inside our heads within those same attention-splintered instants: sad thoughts; something remembered undone at work; a memory from childhood; a sudden doubt there is a Devil or a God or a solution to America’s growing economic-cultural-political divide; a fear that the oven may not have been turned off when we left home.
We spend a lot of time living and rummaging around inside our heads and wishing we were smarter and better thinkers. So it is hardly a surprise that Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, recently has been running high on best-seller charts and recently has received several prestigious plaudits as one of 2011’s best books.
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman expands and expounds upon two modes of thinking previously identified by psychologists and he uses the simple labels, System 1 and System 2, previously assigned by psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West.
“System 1,” Kahneman says, “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” This “fast” level is driven by intuition and emotion.
Meanwhile, “System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.” It is the “slow” thinking level where deliberation and logic hold sway.
These two “systems” do not exist in separate compartments within our brains, of course. They are convenient concepts for trying to better grasp how our thinking processes work and interact — and how they fail us, sometimes.
Writes Kahneman: “System 2 is the only one that can follow rules, compare objects on several attributes, and make deliberate choices between options. The automatic System 1 does not have these capabilities. System 1 detects simple relationships (‘they are all alike,” “the son is much taller than the father’) and excels at integrating information about one thing, but it does not deal with multiple distinct topics at once, nor is it adept at using purely statistical information.”
Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist – with a Nobel Prize in economic sciences. His writings challenging “the rational model of judgment and decision making” have won him acclaim as one of America’s “most important thinkers.” Thinking, Fast and Slow brings together “his many years of research and thinking in one book.”
It is not fast reading, and there have been some reader complaints about formatting glitches in the book’s Kindle edition.
But understanding the two thinking “systems” can help us make better judgments and decisions, Kahneman contends. Particularly if we can become more aware of “the marvels as well as the flaws of intuitive thought” and how Systems 1 and 2 interact within intuition.
States Kahneman: “System 1 is…the origin of much that we do wrong, but it is also the origin of most of what we do right—which is most of what we do,” he writes.
What we must do better to “block errors that originate in System 1,” he argues, is learn how to learn how to “recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2.”
But “…it is much easier to identify a minefield when you observe others wandering into it than when you are about to do so.”
In many daily situations, you will have to make snap decisions straight out of System 1. Yet, where possible, particularly in business, investing and various critical areas of your personal life, you will be wise to slow down a bit, listen more to System 2 and learn how integrate its powers of logic and deliberation into your choices.
Thinking, Fast and Slow can help you do this – while it changes the way you think about how you think.
– Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.