Summary of Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”

Mark Looi
14 min readMar 5, 2020

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Laureate in Economics who is a psychologist by training. He won the prize mostly for his work in decision making, specifically Prospect Theory. This book distills a lifetime of work on the engine of human thinking, highlighting our cognitive biases and showing both the brilliance and limitations of the human mind. This summary attempts to capture some of the more interesting findings.

(Excerpts and quotes are from: Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/thinking-fast-and-slow/id443149884)

Kahneman writes the book as a lay person’s introduction to experimental psychology and summarizes some of the major results of the past 40 years. In doing so, he gives a high level description of the scientific method as applied in social science, the art of creating hypotheses, the clever experiments to test them, and a little about how the data are analyzed. He shows how slowly but surely, in conjunction with many researchers around the globe, our understanding of human thinking has advanced.

He also recounts the impressive history of the field, going back to great rational thinkers, Bernoulli (of the famous Bernoulli Equation) and David Hume, the Scottish philosopher.

In the end, Kahneman shows that our brains are highly evolved to perform many tasks with great efficiency, but they are often ill-suited to accurately carry out other mental tasks; in fact, our thinking is riddled with behavioral fallacies. Consequently, we are at risk of manipulation not usually of the overt kind, but by nudges and small increments. Indeed we have learned that by exploiting these weaknesses in the way our brains process information, social media platforms, governments, media in general, and populist leaders, are able exercise a form of collective mind control.

It’s also clear that the bugs in our personal thinking systems are being exploit faster than patches can be applied!

Two Systems

Kahneman introduces two characters that animate the mind:

  • “System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful…

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Mark Looi

Entrepreneur, technologist, business strategist, history buff, photographer, with a diverse range of interests.