Tag Archives: thinking

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking,_Fast_and_SlowThere aren’t many books I read that I would recommend that everyone read. But Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow would be one.

We all want to think we are rational agents, that we actively deliberate when we make a decision, that we think about the things we hear with a critical mind. In fact, much of so-called “classical” economics is built on just such an assumption of rational people. Kahneman, a Nobel prize winning economist known for his pioneering work on behavioral economics, demonstrates with example after example that we are far from such rational beings.

Even worse, our brains essentially trick us into thinking we are rational. The decisions we make, the way we process information we see and hear, and our reactions to the world are all influenced much more than we realize by our subconscious mind. In fact, many decisions are made at the subconscious level and, only after the fact, does our conscious mind make up reasons for those decisions. That is, we create our own narratives that make our thinking self-consistent, that make our world view and our internal world make sense.

Kahneman has lead or been part of numerous studies that demonstrate how our brains process information and how we reach decisions and he describes some truly eye-opening and mind-opening examples. I won’t go into any of them here, for fear of getting them wrong, but needless to say they make one question exactly how rational and how in control of our own minds we really are. Do our thoughts and beliefs come from well-thought out origins, or are they the reaction of some deep part of our minds that we aren’t even aware of? How much do we really know ourselves?

Lest one think that these are esoteric questions, Kahneman’s examples are real-world, showing how these kinds of subconscious mental processes influence pretty much every decision we make. He includes examples of how judges make decisions, how military training is conducted, and how we do simple things like how we interpret the world around us.

The book is dense with a lot of concepts that Kahneman tries to dumb down for the average reader, but even so, some of these ideas take a few readings to absorb. I’ve only gone through the book once, but I certainly intend to revisit this book, probably multiple times.

I would highly recommend this book to any and everyone. I think that it is with this kind of insight that we can build better economic and political systems that aren’t based on fallacious assumptions about the nature of human behavior. Once we all recognize how we really do think, we can maybe make an active choice to try to, in the end, be a bit more rational.


Lexicon by Max Barry

lexicon_usa_hb_bigMax Barry has become one of my favorite authors. His novels take elements of every day life, the things that are changing around us because of advances in technology and our understanding of the world, and pushes those elements to extremes to explore their consequences in unique ways. In Lexicon, he does this again.

In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements and propaganda that try to influence us. And there is a lot of research that shows this stuff works. The way things are presented to us or the context in which they are presented to us influences how we think about them or even how we think more generally. Imagine taking this to the extreme, where certain special words can completely hi-jack our brains and make us do whatever the speaker wants. That is the premise of Lexicon.

Lexicon follows the adventures of a group of people who are particularly adept at this kind of manipulation. They recruit kids to a special school where they teach them to hone these abilities and teach them these powerful words. These kids are then players in a bigger global arena in which the most powerful are trying to assert control.

One of these students, Emily, is different than the others, mostly in that her moral code brings her to break the rules. Ultimately, this puts her on the run from the very organization that trained her as she tries to understand the secret machinations that run behind the scenes.

I won’t go into the plot very much, but there are twists and turns throughout the novel such that you never really know who is on the side of the angels and who is not. And some of the characters are pretty grey in this regard, maybe not so much good or bad but, really, are like all of us: depending on the situation, they sometimes make good or bad decisions.

In any case, this is another entertaining novel from Max Barry that, while taking you on a roller coaster ride of adventure, still makes you think about some of the bigger questions related to how we think and what really influences how we think. I don’t really believe we are as completely autonomous as our brains make us think we are. What happens if that is taken to an extreme? Lexicon provides one entertaining answer to this question.