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Book Review Thinking Fast and Slow: Lessons in Media Bias

by John on 04/05/2012

You should read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

He won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for Economic Sciences.  But the book stands on its own – despite his many credentials.

In short, Kahneman explains the two systems that drive our thinking. 

System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional.  That’s when you say to yourself things like this: “Obama is black so he must be a Muslim” or “George Bush sounds like a hick, so he must be dumb.”  Those are my examples, not Kahneman’s.

System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Yet System 2 has its problems because of our ingrained biases.  “If we cut taxes now it will lead to jobs and higher revenues.  It worked for JFK.”  That was 1962, Einstein.  Or “If we raise taxes on the wealthy we can balance the budget.”  Sorry, Socrates, that won’t touch the deficit.  Again, my takes.

Yes, I realize a nicer response would be: “Please read the Simpson-Bowles report on the deficit.  That’s the one the White House and the GOP has put on the shelf despite the positive effect it would have on our economy.”

Kahneman – in more scholarly and less bombastic terms — explores the capabilities and the problems with both these systems in our heads.  He has some enlightening and entertaining examples and case studies.  It will help you examine yourself and your views – without changing your beliefs.

The only people who might be offended are the devoutly religious.  He points to Man’s increased religiosity as – the evangelicals will scream at this one – an evolutionary trait.  It is a mechanism of survival and civility.

But “Thinking, Fast and Slow” can help you with investments, hiring people, or figuring out how to deal with someone at a party.

However, here’s a warning.  After reading this, you might fire your financial adviser and stop watching Cable news shows.  Kahneman explains that the so-called experts have a lousy track record of predicting the future.  And, because they’re on TV, they have a tendency to make wild predictions and assertions – not grounded in research or reality – to please TV producers and their need for ratings.

The book also confirms a lot of my research and experience in the news business.  Once you read this book, you will, as I have said, stop spouting your political opinions – and begin to listen more.  He shows us how most of us are uninformed and biased.  If anything, Kahneman will make you read more – and think differently and longer.

For instance, he discusses the success of Google.  Was it the skill of the founders?  Sure, but Kahneman also makes the case that Google was very lucky.  Be honest with yourself: most of your success includes a factor of luck.  He doesn’t quote Ben Hogan, but Hogan’s theory of success works here. “I find the more I practice the luckier I get.”

Kahneman also puts intuition in its place.  It should be a minor factor in your decisions, but not the primary factor.  For instance, when hiring someone he talks about a mathematical or scientific criteria on employment decisions as the basis — before human intuition should be used.  He uses “Money Ball” as an example.

Kahneman says intuition elects too many of our leaders.  He quotes from the book, The Halo Effect.  Primarily, we make a decision on a candidate based on looks and how their looks coincide with the traits we want for our leader.  What comes to mind is the large number of people who voted for George W. Bush because he’s the guy they would like to be at a barbecue with.

Kahneman is like me – a skeptic.  We don’t trust anything until we see it or someone can prove it.  But he is also realist.  He shows how he collaborated on projects with colleagues who were, unlike him, optimists.  Together, they found a number of answers to the mysteries of the mind.  Of those colleagues of a different mind-set, Kahneman says they argued vehemently, but found solutions and became life-long friends.

If anything, that is what you should come away with.

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