I’m a fiction-lover. That’s what I thought and stated repeatedly my entire (reading) life. But now I start to worry that I don’t actually deserve to call myself that, as half of the books I’ve read this month are non-fiction and they’re not some textbooks I need for university. Am I getting old? Am I discovering something that I’ve failed to see for so long? My stubbornness to read mainly fiction has limited me for long enough – but now I’m free. To use Daniel Kahman’s terms, feeling fear and unfamiliarity towards reading non-fiction is just my System 1 reacting based on its biases, but my System 2 has managed to correctly analyse the situation I’m in and decide this is actually a very good thing.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is posing the questions of how people make choices and answering it by analysing how people think. The answer is that people don’t have an unitary way of thinking and there are two main decision makers in each of us. One goes with the flow, believes in intuition and never thinks twice about the choice, while the other one has to slow down and think it through very carefully. They are called System 1 and System 2, and despite how different each person is, this discussion is strikingly valid for all (or at least most of) the readers of the book.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is not your usual psychology for dummies. Yes, it is slightly more accessible that an academic text, but it is nowhere near an easy read and it sometimes can overcomplicate things by giving seemingly unnecessary information. But simply stating facts is not preferred because of two reasons:
- Why would anybody just believe something written in a book? Yes, the book is written by Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize, so some people might argue that’s enough to believe anything he said. But that’s just your System 1 working and choosing to trust someone just because of an achievement that might or might not be relevant to the work in cause it’s not always the best thing to do. He won a Noble Prize in Economics, after all. The writer wants your System 2 working to understand your System 1 better – so he’s going for detailed information, sometimes lots of data and terms that you might not get to use in your everyday life, but which describe concepts you surely encounter (without noticing) at every step.
- Stating is not useful for understanding and memorising. The point of the book is to change the way you make decisions by making your System 2 more awake during that process. But System 2 is that part of you that uses rationality to produce an answer in a relatively long time (compared to your impulsive System 1). So going quickly through a list of facts would just be the opposite of what System 2 needs.
However, not everybody sees things like this. There are people who love the book and think that it’s changed their life and there are people who find it’s just a failed attempt at popularising psychology and accuse the writer of not ever getting out of his bubble where statistics is common knowledge and graphs are the way people communicate information efficiently. The latter ones have a point and I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is an amazing read for the former ones.
The best thing about the book is the interactivity. The reader is not a passive spectator. Most psychology books don’t work very well, because the reader can just say I’m not like this, I’m clearly an exception about anything that is different to what they think about themselves. Kahneman doesn’t allow you to do that. Before finding out the results of a test, you take the same test yourself. When the results are (not) surprisingly reflecting your own choices, there are only two possible conclusions:
- Daniel Kahneman can read the minds of people he has never met;
- You’re just a normal human being, raised in the same world with mainly the same feelings about money, health, winning and losing. And that’s not to say that you’re not special. You’re a highly unique human being. It’s just that you’re not special in your decision making i.e. most of the decisions you make are objectively wrong and subjectively debatable.
This is not to say you’re not a highly unique human being. It’s just that your decision making process doesn’t really contribute to that.