David Brooks on Daniel Kahneman and the complexities of the mind
October 21, 2011
Mark D. White
David Brooks has a wonderful piece in today's New York Times prompted by the publication of Daniel Kahneman's new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (a review copy of which I saw at Strand last weekend and in my ignorance failed to pick up). Of particular note is this passage of Brooks' referencing the impact of Kahneman's work (particularly that done with the late Amos Tversky):
Kahneman and Tversky were not given to broad claims. But the work they and others did led to the reappreciation of several old big ideas:
We are dual process thinkers. We have two interrelated systems running in our heads. One is slow, deliberate and arduous (our conscious reasoning). The other is fast, associative, automatic and supple (our unconscious pattern recognition). There is now a complex debate over the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two systems. In popular terms, think of it as the debate between “Moneyball” (look at the data) and “Blink” (go with your intuition).
We are not blank slates. All humans seem to share similar sets of biases. There is such a thing as universal human nature. The trick is to understand the universals and how tightly or loosely they tie us down.
We are players in a game we don’t understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness. Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can’t see. Our biases frequently cause us to want the wrong things. Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially about our own mental states. Our free will is bounded. We have much less control over ourselves than we thought.
I am pleased that Brooks did not venture into normative territory here (for the exception of the word "wrong" in the last paragraph above). All in all, a very nice article by Brooks about a truly groundbreaking thinker.
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