I expect Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow to be among the most misunderstood books in recent years. A careless reading may suggest that he endorses intuition as the basis of sound judgment. In fact, he endorses enlightened intuition based on extensive and relevant prior experience. Perhaps diagnoses in an ER offer the best example, especially when the patient arrives unconscious, is from another city, and there is no medical information immediately available. This is not a time to follow hunches. I agree with Kahneman that, in the absence of certainty, luck can play a large role in every story of success. He draws upon recent developments in cognitive and social psychology when presenting an explanation of what the mind is and does, especially insofar as how and why people make the decisions they do, if not always the decisions they should.
Presumably Kahneman is aware of what Oliver Wendell Holmes observed long ago: “I would not give a fig for simplicity this side of adversity but would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” The “marvels of intuition” to which Kahneman refers are to be found on the other side of complexity and, key point, they demonstrate the power of decisions made by intuition in collaboration with enlightened reason. This is, judgment that is guided and informed by an understanding of extensive and relevant prior experience.
What Kahneman characterizes as the “marvels of intuition” are indeed impressive. Low-risk hunches that result in impulsive decisions sometimes produce positive results. However, the best decisions are based on a unique partnership (albeit an “uneasy interaction”) between intuition and reason. Kahneman explains all this brilliantly in his book, one whose insights resist cavalier simplification but generously reward careful consideration.
* * *
Daniel Kahneman (Hebrew: דניאל כהנמן) (born March 5, 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel laureate. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology. With Amos Tversky and others, Kahneman established a cognitive basis for common human errors using heuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973; Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky, 1982; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974), and developed prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work in prospect theory. In 2011, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers. Currently, he is professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Thinking, Fast and Slow was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition (October 25, 2011).