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Thinking Fast and Slow Part I: Two Systems


Part I introduces the two systems, which turn out to be the “characters” of the whole book. System 1 is the fast non-voluntary processor, and system 2 is the conscious, effortful, concentration necessary way of thinking.

System 1 use is marked by a comfortable pace of thinking. It is not a strain for system 1 to work, and it is always there in the background. System 2, on the other hand, although in use in some form or another, is more easily strained. Maintaining multiple things in memory while multiplying difficult numbers is about the limit of system 2 effort, and it can also be depleted and overworked like a muscle. The difference between “rational” and “irrational” people, as Stanovich uses the terms, has to do with how apt we are to use our system 2 minds on problems, vs. thoughtlessly accepting the intuitive system 1 answers.

System one works “associatively” in that certain thoughts or words activate a wide net of related mental concepts, all underneath conscious perception. Activated concepts more easily come to mind (the priming affect), and can also affect our actions.

Because of how system 1 works, ideas repeated frequently, presented clearly, and to an audience in a good mood, are going to be more easy to understand, and thus more likely to be judged as true and good. This is the concept of “cognitive ease” and its relation to our beliefs.

System 1 also seeks out normalcy, and updates quickly. That means that unlikely events will seem somewhat normal if they occur only once. Surprise later, even if warranted, will be less likely. It also judges normalcy based on extrapolated agency and quick conclusions of cause and effect.

There’s also confirmation bias. System 1 sees things to confirm current models, not to falsify them, and ambiguity and doubt are regularly ignored. There’s also the Halo Effect, which is ignoring ambiguity in human character. People are either good or evil, and your first impression more or less colors your whole view of them. Few people are flawed in some ways, virtuous in others. If they are pretty, they’re smart and talented too. There’s also the tendency to focus only on the information provided, not on what is not provided, which is more confirmation bias.

Lastly, we often answer easy questions instead of harder ones. These are hueristics. Instead of answering How happy am I with my life nowadays? I may answer What is my mood right now. When we are wondering if something is moral, or if a politician will be successful, we answer the question of how we subjectively feel about them. These can sometimes be a decent general approach, but they are subject to some systematic errors when we’re not careful.

Kindle Notes:

In the current view of how associative memory works, a great deal happens at once. An idea that has been activated does not merely evoke one other idea. It activates many ideas, which in turn activate others. Furthermore, only a few of the activated ideas will register in consciousness; most of the work of associative thinking is silent, hidden from our conscious selves. The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience, but it is true: you know far less about yourself than you feel you do (872).

The effects of the primes are robust but not necessarily large. Among a hundred voters, only a few whose initial preferences were uncertain will vote differently about a school issue if their precinct is located in a school rather than in a church—but a few percent could tip an election (962).

For a period of ten weeks a new image was presented each week, either flowers or eyes that appeared to be looking directly at the observer. No one commented on the new decorations, but the contributions to the honesty box changed significantly.Read more at location (972).

Note: Relavant to the goods of religion?

The lesson of figure 5 is that predictable illusions inevitably occur if a judgment is based on an impression of cognitive ease or strain. Anything that makes it easier for the associative machine to run smoothly will also bias beliefs. A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth (1052).

Note: Good appliction to religious or supernatural beliefs. The sense of agency is cognitively easy to process so religious claims seem more plausible. Naturalistic explanations like evolution are harder.

We are evidently ready from birth to have impressions of causality, which do not depend on reasoning about patterns of causation. They are products of System 1 (1304).

The perception of intention and emotion is irresistible; only people afflicted by autism do not experience it. All this is entirely in your mind, of course. Your mind is ready and even eager to identify agents, assign them personality traits and specific intentions, and view their actions as expressing individual propensities. Here again, the evidence is that we are born prepared to make intentional attributions: infants under one year old identify bullies and victims, and expect a pursuer to follow the most direct path in attempting to catch whatever it is chasing (1310).

Note: Agent detection intuitions.

He observes that “we perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls.” The two modes of causation that we are set to perceive make it natural for us to accept the two central beliefs of many religions: an immaterial divinity is the ultimate cause of the physical world, and immortal souls temporarily control our bodies while we live and leave them behind as we die (1319).

The psychology of causality was the basis of my decision to describe psychological processes by metaphors of agency (1327).

If you like the president’s politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person—including things you have not observed—is known as the halo effect.Read more at location (1391).

Overconfidence: As the WYSIATI rule implies, neither the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much in subjective confidence. The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little (1500).

Framing effects: Different ways of presenting the same information often evoke different emotions. The statement that “the odds of survival one month after surgery are 90%” is more reassuring than the equivalent statement that “mortality within one month of surgery is 10%” (1504).

Base-rate neglect: Recall Steve, the meek and tidy soul who is often believed to be a librarian. The personality description is salient and vivid, and although you surely know that there are more male farmers than male librarians, that statistical fact almost certainly did not come to your mind when you first considered the question (1508).

In about 70% of the races for senator, congressman, and governor, the election winner was the candidate whose face had earned a higher rating of competence. This striking result was quickly confirmed in national elections in Finland, in zoning board elections in England, and in various electoral contests in Australia, Germany, and Mexico (1549).

Note: Weakness of democracy

As expected, the effect of facial competence on voting is about three times larger for information-poor and TV-prone voters than for others who are better informed and watch less television (1561).

I propose a simple account of how we generate intuitive opinions on complex matters. If a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not found quickly, System 1 will find a related question that is easier and will answer it (1659).

The technical definition of heuristic is a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions. The word comes from the same root as eureka (1664).

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