During a random conversation with a group of friends, we realised that all of us wanted to blog regularly. Thus began the idea of a 'Poison blog'. So, to avoid the wrath of the deadly poison post (which apparently can cause a horrible death) below is my first contribution...in the form of a book review (sort of, but not really).

The book in question is "Thinking, fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman, and the reason it's only sort of a book review is I haven't finished reading it! In fact, probably only about a fifth of the way. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting book and I would like to share a few of the things I've read so far and have found interesting.

The book explains how our mind consists of two very different systems that determines the way we think and make decisions. Kahneman has named these systems: System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1: intuitive, fast and emotional. It's automatic so you can't really stop it from doing it's thing. For example you when you see 1 + 1 your System 1 has already calculated the answer.
  • System 2: deliberate, slow and logical. It's controlled (and somewhat lazy) so you need to actually focus and work for System 2 to perform it's magic. For example when you see 42 x 38 you know you can calculate that in your head (or maybe on paper) but that'll require some effort.

Generally speaking, System 1 is always running in the background and making sense of the world around us. This means that it is common for System 1 to jump to a conclusion and System 2 (being lazy) assumes that the conclusion System 1 has provided is correct and makes decisions based on it.

Of course our minds work this way for a good reason. If we didn't have something that very quickly and automatically made sense of the world around us we would probably be in a lot of trouble. The assumptions that System 1 makes are often correct or good enough. For example, picture this: "A large mouse crawled over a small elephant's trunk", chances are that in your mind's eye the mouse was still small when compared to the elephant.

However, there are flaws. When asked: "How many animals of each kind did Moses take onto the ark?", many fail to see the error in the question. Moses didn't take any animals onto the ark, Noah did. The fact that Moses is also a biblical character is enough to trick System 1 to not raise any flags and jump to a plausible answer.

There are several other weak points where System 1 can often make mistakes, leading us to provide an incorrect answer or choice. What makes this disparity between System 1 and System 2 interesting (and somewhat scary) is that often System 2 believes it is in control and making the correct decisions!

The important thing to make a mental note of is that this happens to everyone, including you! We have no conscious access or control to what System 1 is gives to System 2, and since System 2 believes that it is the one that came up with the conclusion, it is often hard (maybe sometimes even impossible) to notice what has happened. Though the knowledge that System 1 can at times fail us is a good start to turn on System 2 bit more frequently, take a second look and question one's immediate reaction to a particular situation.

So next time you make a decision, maybe take an extra moment to think it over. Have you made any assumptions that could be incorrect? If so, will that change your original decision?