Thinking, Fast and Slow is Kahneman's first book for a general audience, and a summary of his far-reaching and important work. Over the course of about 400 pages (this does not include the appendices, notes, or index), Kahneman explains his current views on: System 1 vs. System 2 thinking, heuristics and biases, overconfidence, decision making under uncertainty, the differences between the experiencing self and remembering self, and the implications of combining all this knowledge.
In short: If you care about improving your thinking and decision making, and thus you care about the cognitive science of rationality, then you are likely to enjoy — and benefit from — this book. And if you know people who won't read the Core Sequences, getting them to read Thinking, Fast and Slow will take them 30% of the way.
Kahneman leaps deftly between demonstration ("try this word problem, notice what your brain does"), theory, and research stories. He covers dozens of issues likely to familiar to veteran LWers, and perhaps a dozen more that have never been discussed on Less Wrong: availability cascades, causal stereotyping, illusion of validity, the stuff on expert intuition from chapter 22, duration neglect, the peak-end effect, affective forecasting and "miswanting,"
Each chapter ends with snippets of fictional dialogue, showing what it would like to use the concepts introduced in that chapter in everyday speech. What is remarkable is how much these snippets sound like things I hear in daily conversations at Singularity Institute. For example:
Other dialogue snippets from Kahneman's book are considered so obvious within Singularity Institute that sentences similar to Kahneman's snippets are often half-spoken before somebody interrupts and moves on because everyone in the room already knows the rest of the sentence, and everybody knows that everybody else knows the rest of the sentence:
Other dialogue snippets from the book are even more obvious within Singularity Institute, and they can be communicated merely by raising an eyebrow at what someone has said:
In the final chapter, Kahneman reflects on the good news that his and his colleagues' work is having an effect at the policy level. As a result of a book he wrote with Richard Thaler, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Cass Sunstein was invited by President Obama to be the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. From that post Sunstein has successfully implemented many new policies that treat humans as humans instead of as members of Homo economicus:
...applications that have been implemented [by Sunstein] include automatic enrollment in health insurance, a new version of the dietary guidelines that replaces the incomprehensible Food Pyramid with the powerful image of a Food Plate loaded with a balanced diet, and a rule formulated by the USDA that permits the inclusion of messages such as “90% fat-free” on the label of meat products, provided that the statement “10% fat” is also displayed “contiguous to, in lettering of the same color, size, and type as, and on the same color background as, the statement of lean percentage.”
The British government has also responded by forming a special unit dedicated to applying decision science to successful policy-making. Officially it is called the Behavioural Insight Team, but internally people just call it the Nudge Unit.
Nice. Just ordered it for my University Library, hopefully that might make it more likely that someone else reads it too.
Can someone who read this comment on whether it has personal practical value? I mean, it might be cool to say things like, "That's your System 1 talking so we better switch to System 2," but I'm wondering if you could just instead say, "You're using intuition and we should analyze this in more detail." Kahneman himself admits he didn't improve his own judgment using his theory, so maybe things more like how-to guides would be better. (I did read this.)
I am, however, thinking of buying Pfeffer's Power.
Luke, have you written anything about the ethical implications of conflicts between the experiencing self and remembering self? I did a bit of searching and didn't see anything.
Good! Now I have two recently published very interesting books to read!
Khaneman and Michael Nielsen's Reinventing Discovery. (I'll submit a review M.N.'s this as soon as I've read it)
Based on your review I purchased the book via Nook and anticipate reading it within the next month.