Daniel Kahneman: The Marvels and the Flaws of Intuitive Thinking & His Book Thinking Fast Thinking Slow
Excerpts from Transcript (via Edge.org)
We focused on flaws of intuition and of intuitive thinking, and I can tell you how it began. It began with a conversation about whether people are good intuitive statisticians or not. There was a claim at the University of Michigan by some people with whom Amos had studied, that people are good intuitive statisticians. I was teaching statistics at the time, and I was convinced that this was completely false. Not only because my students were not good intuitive statisticians, but because I knew I wasn’t. My intuitions about things were quite poor, in fact, and this has remained one of the mysteries, and it’s one of the things that I’d like to talk about today — what are the difficulties of statistical thinking, and why is it so difficult.
If you want to understand intuition, it is very useful to understand perception, because so many of the rules that apply to perception apply as well to intuitive thinking. Intuitive thinking is quite different from perception. Intuitive thinking has language. Intuitive thinking has a lot of world knowledge organized in different ways than mere perception. But some very basic characteristics that we’ll talk about of perception are extended almost directly into intuitive thinking.
Type 1 is automatic, effortless, often unconscious, and associatively coherent, and I’ll talk about that. And Type 2 is controlled, effortful, usually conscious, tends to be logically coherent, rule-governed. Perception and intuition are Type 1— it’s a rough and crude characterization. Practiced skill is Type 1, that’s essential, the thing that we know how to do like driving, or speaking, or understanding language and so on, they’re Type 1. That makes them automatic and largely effortless, and essentially impossible to control.
Type 2 is more controlled, slower, is more deliberate, and as Mike Gazzaniga was saying yesterday, Type 2 is who we think we are. I would say that, if one made a film on this, Type 2 would be a secondary character who thinks that he is the hero because that’s who we think we are, but in fact, it’s Type 1 that does most of the work, and it’s most of the work that is completely hidden from us.
Brilliant Thoughts (via Edge.org)
System 1 is one character, and System 2 is another character, and they battle it out. They each have their own preferences, and their own ways of doing things. I will apologize ahead of time for why I’m doing this, because I don’t believe that there are systems in the brain, systems in the sense of interacting parts and so on. But it turns out that our memory and our minds are shaped in such a way that certain operations are a lot easier for us than others.
A book that I read recently that I recommend is Moonwalking with Einstein. In that book Joshua Foer described how in one year he turned himself into the memory champion of the United States using techniques that have been around since the Greeks. The point that he makes is quite straightforward. We are very, very bad at remembering lists. We are very, very good at remembering routes. We can remember routes; we don’t remember lists. If you arrange a list along your route, you’re going to remember the list, and that’s basically the idea.
It turns out there is something else we’re awfully good at. We’re good at taking an agent and assigning characteristics to that agent, and remembering that this agent has these certain habits, and it does these things. If you want to learn about System 1 and System 2, or about Type 1 and Type 2 operations, really the same, think of it as System 1 and 2. it will develop a personality. There are certain things that it likes doing, that it’s able to do, and there are certain things it just cannot do, and you will get that image. It’s completely crazy. There is no such thing as these two characters but at the same time, I find it enormously useful. And it’s quite funny, I’m losing friends over this. People will tell me, you’re bringing psychology backward 50 years, because the idea of having little people in the mind is supposed to be a grave sin. I accept it’s a grave sin. But it really helps you when you think of those characters in the mind with their own characteristics. So I’ll give you a few examples.
System 1 infers and invents causes and intentions. And that, again, is something that happens automatically.
And the jumping to conclusions is immediate, and very small samples, and furthermore from unreliable information. You can give details and say this information is probably not reliable, and unless it is rejected as a lie, people will draw full inferences from it. What you see is all there is. Now, that will very often create a flaw. It will create overconfidence. The confidence that people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, it is not a judgment of the quality of the evidence but it is a judgment of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.