Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chez Buce Reads Kahneman: I

We really need to talk to each other more here at Chez Buce.  Example: Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow.  A couple of months back we each of us put it on our several e-readers, without coordination and so without the possibility of buying just one copy and lending--but then, I don't think either of us has mastered e-lending yet either.  So we've both been working through it in a kind of parallel play.

A couple of months: yes, it is that kind of book.  And it's not that it's all that abstruse: Kahneman's writing is a model of easy-going clarity, perhaps deceptive in it straightforward application.  And it's not familiarity/unfamiliarity.    Seeing as how I teach in a law school--and considering what I teach--I actually had seen and considered a good many of the examples Kahneman discusses.  Mrs. B less so, but she has had other fish to fry.  Anyway, it didn't matter.  For both of us, it's just the kind of book you want to think about, to roll over in your mind, to set aside for a few days and then come back to later.

For the moment, let me consider just one: Kahneman makes much out of the distinction between what he calls "System 1" and "System 2" as modes of thought. System 1 is intuitive; system 2 is detached and critical. System 1 is fast; system 2 is slow.    Much of the book is devoted to showing the kind of errors that system 1  can lead us to.  System 1, it appears, has a built in vulnerability to distortion.  And System 2 is lazy.

But here's the thing. Chez Buce is unanimous on the point that, for good or for ill, this is a System 2 household.  This doesn't mean that we are smarter than everybody, or anybody.  It certainly (trust me!) doesn't mean that we always get things right.  It does mean that we are both, in our different ways, compulsive second-guessers.  Did he really mean that?  Why did he say that?  Is there another way of doing that?  We may annoy outsiders, but believe me we drive each other just batty with this kind of sifting and turning, sifting and turning.  Indeed I'd venture that it is precisely the sifting and turning mentality that drove us both to Kahneman (independently but simultneously) in the first place.

If System 2 is all that lazy, can someone point us to a device that will cool it down?  We could use the rest. 

Afterthought: I see that Kahneman is runninjg #16 in the Amazon League tables at this hour, a bit behind P.D. James and just ahead of John Grisham. This surely makes it the hottest social science book of the year. How long before somebody has a run with the big deconstruction.

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