Thinking, Fast and Slow. 16. Causes trump Statistics

Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar

The lessons from this chapter:

1. We are lousy Bayesian Infererers. We just forget once and again about prior probabilities. I have to admit that I gave the wrong answer to the question opening the chapter. So, lets admit it, if I make such an error while reading this book, there is not human way to avoid making such errors in normal life.

2. We are much more likely to incorporate prior knowledge into our inferences if it takes the form of causative rules. As we have commented before, we are causality searching machines. And when we cannot find it we create it.

3. System one cannot work with ambiguous traits with assigned probabilities. He needs to create stereotypes with very defined characteristics and is going to base its judgments on that defined traits.

4. The most important conclusion of the chapter is something about what Nassim Taleb has told us a lot of times: the only way of entering our minds is through stories where particular things happen to particular people. Our mind is unaffected by abstractions, conceptualizations, means, medians and briefings. We need to learn the story. And that is the only way to change our minds.

And two comments from my part:

1. This book seems to be giving us ideas of how to manipulate people and how to avoid being manipulated. The problem is that until know I am finding a lot of the first but I don’t see any real proposal that has the appearance of being effective in achieving the latter. The feeling that one gets when reading the book is of helplessness.

2. The book is quite boring. Kahneman uses abstraction to teach us that are stories and not abstraction what get into our minds. Taleb uses stories to tell us that stories is what matter. And if at the end it is going to happen that no knowledge can be trusted, lest have at least a bit of fun.

3 thoughts on “Thinking, Fast and Slow. 16. Causes trump Statistics

  1. This time I have to disagree with the opinions you express.

    First of all, I don’t find the book boring, but I guess that’s either a question of taste or even of priming. I’m so used to read reaaally boring books and papers about how we think and reason that this book is a current of fresh air.

    Teaching by stories would be contradictory with the spirit of the book. After all, one of the things he is trying to teach us is to be suspicious of anything that is taught through histories.

    And finally, I’d say that the book is useful. Kahneman is just presenting us with a series of facts on how our own mind works. We can decide to look for that trait in other people and manipulate them, or look at ourselves and realize when we are about to make any of the mistakes we read in the book. Kahneman is not trying to write a self-help book. He is just showing the facts. There are no magic bullets to improve our thinking. We just need to pay more attention at how we think. I appreciate that Kahneman is not trying to sell us anything and he is just bluntly frank about how we really are.

    • Hi David,
      my comment about not being provided tools for self defence against biases and manipulations was not intended at all as a critique to the Book. I am not suggesting that the Book could be written otherwise so that this tools be explained because, probably, such tools doesn’t exist at all. I rather meant that the picture of our cognitive apparatus that emerges after reading it is quite uncomfortable and creates a sense of helplessness. Of course the book is useful.

      About the other point. You are right that it is a personal question and probably it is also a question of style. I have to force myself to follow the flow of the chapters and I have to work to understand the gist of it. While with Taleb I was seduced into the narrative and discovered the message in a spontaneous and natural way that, I think, lasts far longer in our minds.

  2. I misunderstood you then. Yes, there seems to be no tools for self defense, and that’s a very bleak picture of our human capacities indeed.
    About boringness, one thing I have to admit is that the book is not as entertaining as in the beginning. The structure is always the same: here is a problem, that’s how system 1 understands the problem due to the following bias.
    I still find the book interesting, but it is true that the first chapters, when the main mechanisms are explained are a lot more entertaining than these.

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