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Customer Review

411 of 460 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thinking Well, Thinking Poorly, 9 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: Thinking, Fast and Slow (Hardcover)
You are at the cinema watching the latest film. Fifteen minutes before the end, the projector explodes and the screening is terminated prematurely. You feel that the experience was ruined. However, Daniel Kahneman knows better - he asserts that you are mistaken! Your own mind has deceived you. A combination of `duration neglect' and the `peak end rule' is responsible. You have difficulties distinguishing your memories from your experiences. He claims you found the experience blissful (despite having missed the end), no matter what you believe.

This is an example of one of the rather silly assertions which can be found towards the end of this 418 page book. There are quite a few equally foolish theories throughout the last 200 pages.

This is a book of two halves. The first half is absolutely inspirational. The writing style here is excellent. In order to illustrate his points, the author provides many exercises for the reader to perform. In doing these you conduct little experiments on your own brain, which will astonish you time and again by the obvious errors and self deceptions it keeps making. By page 200 I was feeling this was one of the very best books I have ever read. The material shows beyond doubt that the mind of the human is full of flaws, biases and delusions.

And then comes the second half. The writing becomes more turgid, the little exercises stop coming, and the lessons become more and more flaky, culminating in the example I give at the beginning. What went wrong?

Mr Kahneman points out that the human brain is biased towards finding coherence where there is none, and that we are susceptible to a frightening level of overconfidence. No where is this better illustrated than in the second half of his own book. Having found many instances of irrational thinking, particularly where statistics are concerned, Mr Kahneman seems to become obsessed with irrationality, and seeks to find the same pattern in all aspects of human behaviour. He becomes more and more overconfident with the tidy and coherent story he has constructed, and produces some spectacularly silly theories as a result.

I would give the second half of the book barely one star. But read it for the first 200 pages, which fully deserve five stars!
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Showing 1-10 of 23 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 May 2012 11:17:12 BDT
I think you missed the point regarding the duration neglect and peak-end rule. During the film you were finding it 'blissful' (or whatever) as how could you possible know what would come next regarding the projector blowing up. He was trying to point out that experiencing the moment (pleasure or pain) is different to how you may remember it, which obviously has many implications, especially for policy (e.g. health policy with respect to the colonoscopy example)

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 22:54:48 BDT
M. D. Holley says:
I agree fully with your final sentence. If Kahneman had stopped there it would have been fine and a point well made. But Kahneman goes way beyond - on page 381 he accuses someone who listened to a symphony on disc that was scratched at the end as being mistaken about their experience. On page 409 he again talks about people who place importance on endings as being 'mistaken'.

Here he has failed to remember that in many books/films/pieces of music the composer (or film director or author) skillfully manipulates your feelings to make you crave for the ending, and to make you feel your experience is only valid if you get that ending. It is nothing to do with duration neglect and peak end rule, but more about the conscious design of the work. (of course there are some pieces of music and films where the end is not important, again because their structure is designed that way). How could Kahneman miss something so obvious? This is just one example of similar errors throughout the second half of the book.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2012 08:42:03 BDT
Thanks for your reply. I understand what your saying about music and films, but Kahneman was only really using that as a (seemingly bad) example of human experience in general. What I think he meant to get across was that duration neglect and peak end biases can effect ALL experiences. The examples of a 30 year moderately happy life being rated as better than 30 years of moderate happiness followed by 5 years of slightly less happiness and death at 35 is key here - i.e. people rate "slightly less happiness" as worse than death! Also a very happy marriage ending in divorce often being remembered badly when actually most of the present moments of that marriage were very happy. I think you are thinking too much with your 'remembering self' rather than your 'experiencing self'. Obviously we are our remembering selves whenever we think of the past usually, but the actual happiness (utility) a person gets in every moment of their actual experience is surely as important (and here the example of painful medical procedures is important) as what they remember?

Posted on 19 Jul 2012 21:16:17 BDT
I agree with the consensus of this review, but would go further to say that the first 100 pages is all that is needed to get a lucidly clear understanding of mental frailties that is indeed inspirational.

But he then dives deeper and into a mind-numbing series of variations of economic theories based on gambling. The result is that 300 pages of the book have almost nothing to do with the title, and are certainly at total discord to the focus of the first 100.

But the book is absolutely worth those 100 pages. You will never think about thinking and decision making again.

Posted on 27 Aug 2012 16:29:03 BDT
Mr. A. Bass says:
Hi, I have to say I disagree. Whilst the amount of work on various gambles is a little longer than might appear required the insights about the difference between the experiential and the remembering self are incredibly valuable. Just look at the number of people who are so focused on photographing events and posting them on Facebook that they miss the event itself. I don't think your interpretation of this point goes deeply enough.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2012 18:12:14 BDT
Thanks for your feedback. Always appreciated to see counter viewpoints.

I stick by my viewpoint - the range of gambling examples in the last 3/4 of the book was as narrow as the first 1/4 was wide. They do add, but the reading became ever more laboured - a reducing return on investment. If he had compressed that 3/4 from 300 to 100 pages, then it would probably have been fine. These examples were much more about economic choices than the main theme of the book - the counterpoint between the fast thinking subconscious and the slow and easily tired conscious mind.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Oct 2012 10:05:36 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 27 Mar 2013 14:41:05 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Oct 2012 10:46:16 BDT
Thanks for the endorsement, but I think he deserves better justice than that - I have read many books on psychology and the first 100 pages were more illuminating than most.

Posted on 30 Nov 2012 13:56:03 GMT
Radu Grigore says:
This review is plain wrong. The reviewer clearly didn't understand the second part of the book. This does mean that the book could have been better written, but it does not mean that the second part is laughable.

Interestingly, the confidence with which the dichotomy experience/memory is mocked makes a good example for another observation made in the book: Experts who sound very confident are usually wrong.

Crap. My comment sounds kinda confident.

Oh, not anymore. Thank God!

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2012 14:05:08 GMT
I laboured through the pages after about page 100. I understood them, but the fact is that they supplied ever finer evidence for an economic understanding of the human mind.

But the book is not about economics. It is about thinking. Economics is but a subset of thinking.

As with all reviews, my assessment reflects my judgement. I judged that the first 100 pages were superb and that he then lost focus and slipped into too much detail.

I lent the book to the smartest person I know, who also abandoned reading for much the same reasons. This is someone who used to read chemistry books for fun as a school boy, and for whom economics is a favourite subject.
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