Thinking, Fast and Slow

My favorite book of its type is 2011's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner and leader in behavioral economics.

In it, Kahneman describes the two different ways our brains form thoughts:

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort

  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it

System 1 is in control when (for example) we see that one object is closer to us than another, recognize the voice of our best friend, or understand simple sentences.

System 2 takes over when we have to dig into our memories to recall a specific event, puzzle through a problem, assess a social situation (etc.).

Every sentence in the book is fascinating, and I especially appreciated the summaries Kahneman provided at the end of each chapter. During an apparently not-busy time in my life, I typed up those summaries (there was no apparent reason for this, as I owned the book, but oh well).

Here are a few statements from those summaries, specifically related to Systems 1 and 2:

  • This was a pure System 1 response. She reacted to the threat before she recognized it.

  • This is your System 1 talking. Slow down and let System 2 take control.

  • What came quickly to mind was an intuition from System 1. I’ll have to start over and search my memory deliberately.”

  • Unfortunately, she tends to say the first thing that comes into her mind. She probably also has trouble delaying gratification. Weak System 2.

  • His System 1 constructed a story, and his System 2 believed it. It happens to all of us.”

  • I’m in a very good mood today, and my System 2 is weaker than usual. I should be extra careful.

Writing your memoir—or even just documenting one or two memorable life events—is the province of System 2, pehaps punctuated by flares of insight from System 1.

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