Thinking Fast and Slow. Chapter 1. The Characters of the Story

Following our Reading Calendar, here is a brief synopsis of Chapter 1.

In this chapter, Kahneman present us with the main theoretical model in which the whole theory of biases is built. The distinction between two main modes of reasoning: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is the fast system. The one that is automatic and always active. It is very fast, works in parallel and implies little or none conscious effort. It is the responsible of processes like viewing in perspective, recognize from where a sounds come from, automatic pattern recognition (like reading or recognizing an angry face) and  expert knowledge (like a chess master that looks at a chess board and automatically sees checkmate in two).

Most importantly, System 1 is involuntary and impossible to disconnect, to cancel it. As Kahneman clearly shows with the optical illusion example. When we look at the illusion we see that  the first line is shorter than the second one. When we measure the lines we will find out that they are exactly the same size, but we can’t help but seeing still the first line as shorter than the second.

System 2 is based on reasoning, deliberation, and it is serial, slow, and requires quite a lot of conscious effort, so it is  a lot easier to get distracted.  We use system 2 when solving a complex mathematical problem, writing this post, trying unfamiliar movements, like when first learning to drive a bicycle, or looking for something specific in a crowded environment.

System 2 needs System 1 to work properly. Without System 1 telling us about what is salient in our environment, it is difficult to get the info needed to solve a problem by deliberation. On the other side, System 1 -because it is fast and automatic, can work on its own.

So System 1 is continuously and effortlessly checking the terrain and sending suggestions to System 2 to work with. However System 2 always tries to get control of the situation when things get difficult, and usually has the last word.

It is important to bear in mind, though, that System 1 and System 2 are not really “systems” in the sense that there is actually cerebral or nervous infrastructure responsible of System 1 and System 2. It works mostly as a metaphor to describe two coherent ways in which our mind works,or, to put it into another form, two cognitive styles of solving problems.


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