In the age of the internet books are still hugely influential, and few have been as influential in recent years as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. Books have this power because they assemble a whole body of thought, but they need to be clearly structured, well written, and convincing. And probably to be truly influential books need to be understandable to everybody not just experts.
The core message in Kahneman’s book is that we are far from being the rational creatures imagined in economics. We perhaps knew that, but he describes well the nature and forms of our irrationality. We have two ways of thinking: a fast way that is easy, extremely useful, and horribly prone to bias; and a slower laborious way that we avoid using as much as possible because it’s hard work. In elections and referendums we rely predominantly on the former, which successful politicians understand and which reads us in to some “right messes.”
Over the years I’ve tended to underline or highlight more and more in books, a process that has culminated in me sharing extensive quotes in my blogs. I read Thinking Fast and Slow about two years ago, and I have only a small, not necessarily logical, collection of quotes to share, but here I go.
Good technologies have few costs in the imaginary world we inhabit, bad technologies have no benefits, and all decisions are easy. In the real world, of course, we often face painful tradeoffs between benefits and costs.
Mr and Mrs Citizen are guided by emotion rather than reason, easily swayed by trivial details, and inadequately sensitive to differences between low and negligibly low probabilities.
Experts often measure risks by the number of lives (or life years) lost, while the public draws finer distinctions, for example, between “good deaths” and “bad deaths.”
“Risk” does not exist “out there,” independent of our minds and culture, waiting to be measured.