‘A machine for jumping
Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s new book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” examines how our
ability to think quickly and intuitively can sometimes lead us astray — in predictable ways.
By lEA WiNERMAN
To Daniel Kahneman, PhD, the human mind is a marvel, but a
Kahneman, who is best known as
the only psychologist to win a Nobel
Prize (in economics), has spent decades
investigating people’s automatic thought
processes. He has found that what he
calls our “System 1” — our automatic,
intuitive mind — usually lets us navigate
the world easily and successfully. But,
when unchecked by “System 2” —
our controlled, deliberative, analytical
mind — System 1 also leads us to make
regular, predictable errors in judgment.
Considering those errors in the
1970s led Kahneman and his longtime
collaborator Amos Tversky, PhD, who
died in 1996, to develop the Nobel-prize-winning theory that explains why
human beings often make economic
decisions that aren’t perfectly rational —
in contrast to what economists had long
Kahneman spoke to the Monitor
about his new book, “Thinking, Fast and
Slow,” which sums up his life’s research
on human judgments, decision-making
and, most recently, happiness.
Can you give an example of how
System 1 and System 2 work?
I should begin by saying that I don’t
believe they are really systems. They are
expository fictions, and I write the book
as a psychodrama between two fictitious
What is the significance of these
two systems? What are the
implications for psychologists
They’re really two modes of thinking.
And everybody recognizes the difference
between thoughts that come to mind
automatically and thoughts that you
need to produce. That is the distinction.
The main point that I make is that
System 1 is very efficient and highly
skilled, and in general it’s monitored by
System 2. But in general we’re experts at
what we’re doing, we do most of what
we do well, so System 2 mostly endorses
and generates actions from System 1.
System 2 in part is a mechanism for
second-guessing or controlling yourself.
But most of the time, we don’t have to
do much of that.
But, System 1 can sometimes
lead us astray when it’s
unchecked by System 2. For
example, you write about a
concept called “WySiATi” —
What you See is All There is.
What does that mean, and how
does it relate to System 1 and
System 1 is a storyteller. It tells the best
stories that it can from the information
available, even when the information
is sparse or unreliable. And that makes
stories that are based on very different
qualities of evidence equally compelling.
Our measure of how “good” a story is
— how confident we are in its accuracy
— is not an evaluation of the reliability
of the evidence and its quality, it’s a
measure of the coherence of the story.
People are designed to tell the best
story possible. So WYSIATI means that
we use the information we have as if it
is the only information. We don’t spend
much time saying, “Well, there is much
we don’t know.” We make do with what
we do know. And that concept is very
central to the functioning of our mind.
There is a very nice example of this,
and it’s actually the thing that impressed