Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thinking Fast and Slow, A Catalog of Fallacies: Part 1

I also just recently finished reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.  For my convenience, I'm going to catalog all of the different sorts of biases that Kahneman observes in our decision making making process.

First, the set up.  Kahneman holds that there are two aspects to the psychology of decision making.  He calls them System 1 and System 2.  System 1 is the fast, impulsive, intuitive aspect of decision making.  System 2 is the slow, deliberative, calculative aspect of decision making.  Our decision making process involves one or both of these systems, depending on all sorts of environmental and personal factors.

Okay, some tidbits about these systems.

First, System 2 expends more mental energy than System 1.  Usually we're not inclined to use System 2 unless circumstances require it.  System 2 is what Kahneman calls the "lazy controller."  One consequence from this observation is that System 1 will make lots of decisions based on unreliable methods, and System 2 will not be called into service because the individual may believe those methods to be sound.

A major lesson here is that we often take the path of least resistance when it comes to decision making.  When are more inclined to decide in favor of x if x coheres with a particular narrative that we've constructed, if x is easier to understand, if x is at the forefront of our attention, or if x is presented by an individual that we are drawn to for whatever reason.  Furthermore, Kahneman notes that many of our decisions are based solely on information we have on hand, regardless of how incomplete that information might be.  He calls this "what you see is all there is," WYSIATI for short.

One aspect of System 1 is that a decision made via System 1 is often affected by information received from the environment just prior to the decision.  A form of this kind of effect is what Kahneman calls "priming."  Priming occurs when environmental factors, regardless of how tangentially related they are, affect your cognitive state, which in turns affects your decision making process.  For example, a recent marital break up can prime an employer to view job candidates differently, without his or her noticing it.

This sort of associative thinking is a big part of the System 1 process.  Often we analogize decision-making factors, even when those analogies are inappropriate.  For instance, we often replace the question we're given with one that seems analogous and easier to answer.  If we're asked, "How much would we give to contribute to save an endangered species?" we might replace this with "How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins?"

Okay, so that's about it as far as set up goes.  Fallacies next.

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