Saturday, 3 January 2015


'A machine for jumping to conclusions'

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman's new book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow," examines how our ability to think quickly and intuitively can sometimes lead us astray—in predictable ways.
In this article Lea Winerman interviews Daniel Kahneman:
But, System 1 can sometimes lead us astray when it's unchecked by System 2. For example, you write about a concept called "WYSIATI"—What You See Is All There Is. What does that mean, and how does it relate to System 1 and System 2?
Kahneman: System 1 is a storyteller. It tells the best stories that it can from the information available, even when the information is sparse or unreliable. And that makes stories that are based on very different qualities of evidence equally compelling. Our measure of how "good" a story is—how confident we are in its accuracy—is not an evaluation of the reliability of the evidence and its quality, it's a measure of the coherence of the story.
People are designed to tell the best story possible. So WYSIATI means that we use the information we have as if it is the only information. We don't spend much time saying, "Well, there is much we don't know." We make do with what we do know. And that concept is very central to the functioning of our mind.
There is a very nice example of this, and it's actually the thing that impressed Malcolm Gladwell when he wrote the book "Blink." We form an impression of people within less than a second of meeting them, in some cases. We decide whether they're friendly, hostile or dominant, and whether we're going to like them. And clearly, we form that impression with inadequate information, just based on their facial features or movements. This is WYSIATI—we don't wait for more information, we form impressions on the basis of what is available to us.
Gladwell emphasized that there was some accuracy to those, but they are very far from perfectly accurate. They're better than nothing … but what is striking is that you form them immediately in the absence of adequate information.
Can a person train him or herself to say, "Wait, what other information is out there that I'm missing?"
Kahneman: Well, the main point that I make is that confidence is a feeling, it is not a judgment. And that feeling comes automatically; it itself is a product of System 1. My own intuition and my System 1 have really not been educated to be very different. Education influences System 2, and enables System 2 to pick up cues that "this is a situation where I'm likely to make those mistakes." So on rare occasions, I catch myself in the act of making a mistake, but normally I just go on and make it.
When the stakes are very high, I might stop myself. For example, when someone asks me for an opinion and I'm in a professional role, and I know that they are going to act on my opinion or take it very seriously, then I slow down. 

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