Think Fast

I enjoyed watching this interview (~ a hour) with Daniel Kahneman.  His book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is delightful and very meaty.  Obviously it’s organizing principle is to partition the way we make decisions into the two classes mentioned in the title.

The interview suffers a bit because they keep insisting on using the term heuristic (as in short cut for figuring something out) to describe both kinds of thinking.

For example say we are asked how much something is worth.  We might quickly recall some number mentioned recently and interpolate an answer from that number – this trick is sometimes called anchoring.  Or we might query Amazon and use that number.  Both are heuristics but the first is often described as a near instantaneous scheme that people use, so quick that they are largely unaware of it.

At first I was confused by the discussion since the list of fast heuristics was short.  I have a long list.  Accumulated over the years, of fast thinking tricks people use.  For example there is consistency: i.e. when faced with a choice we will default to taking the same choice as last time.  I have a list is because so much of popular psychology (and marketing) involves tricking people into making mistakes based on one of these.  You can then making fun of (or profit off) them.

But in pretty quickly it becomes clear that Kahneman’s view is more nuanced than that.

The fun thing he says about that list is that he has grown affectionate for a universal rule of fast thinking, i.e. that when faced with any puzzle we seek to reframe it, very fast, into another puzzle that we already have solved.

Frame that as advice:  Don’t try to answer the question, instead answer a different nearby question.  One your familiar with.

This lazy problem solving heuristics works fine both fast and slow.  You can engage in satisficing slowly, savoring the process.  Go ahead, spin up a long story based on evolution, free markets, the history of the last century, or what ever your into.   Nothing obviously wrong with that.  It is often fun, entertaining, and interesting.  Sadly it’s often lazy too.

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