Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) – a recapitulation of the decades of research that led to his winning the Nobel Prize – explains his contributions to our current understanding of psychology and behavioral economics. Over the years, Kahneman and his colleagues, whose work the book discusses at length, have significantly contributed to a new understanding of the human mind. We now have a better understanding of how decisions are made, why certain judgment errors are so common and how we can improve ourselves.
There is a compelling drama going on in our minds, a filmlike plot between two main characters with twists, dramas and tensions. These two characters are the impulsive, automatic, intuitive System 1, and the thoughtful, deliberate, calculating System 2. As they play off against each other, their interactions determine how we think, make judgments and decisions, and act.
System 1 is the part of our brain that operates intuitively and suddenly, often without our conscious control. You can experience this system at work when you hear a very loud and unexpected sound. What do you do? You probably immediately and automatically shift your attention toward the sound. That’s System 1.
This system is a legacy of our evolutionary past: there are inherent survival advantages in being able to make such rapid actions and judgments.
System 2 is what we think of when we visualize the part of the brain responsible for our individual decision-making, reasoning and beliefs. It deals with conscious activities of the mind such as self-control, choices and more deliberate focus of attention.
For instance, imagine you’re looking for a woman in a crowd. Your mind deliberately focuses on the task: it recalls characteristics of the person and anything that would help locate her. This focus helps eliminate potential distractions, and you barely notice other people in the crowd. If you maintain this focused attention, you might spot her within a matter of minutes, whereas if you’re distracted and lose focus, you’ll have trouble finding her.
As we'll see in the following blinks, the relationship between these two systems determines how we behave.