January 22, 2012


Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) ("We have all heard such stories of expert intuition: the chess master who walks past a street game and announces 'White mates in three' without stopping, or the physician who makes a complex diagnosis after a single glance at a patient. Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous. Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvelous than the striking insights of an experience firefighter or physician--only more common." "The psychology if accurate intuition involves no magic. Perhaps the best short statement of it is by the great Herbert Simon, who studied chess masters and showed that after thousands of hours of practice they come to see the pieces on the board differently from the rest of us. You can feel Simon's impatience with the mythologizing of expert intuition when he write: 'The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.' " Id. at 11. From the book jacket: "Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities--and also the faults and biases--of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation--each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions." Whenever I am in a meeting of more than three people, (for example, law faculty meetings), I always find myself wishing that the meeting was conducted under Robert's Rules of Order, or at least some modified version thereof, because of the inefficiency, disorder, and waste of time that occurs. Just people able to rule as 'out of order' the raising of matters not related to the issue under discussion would be a blessing. That will not happening because, I have come to realize, such meetings are not about conducting business, not about deciding anything, and not really about providing substantive information. Rather the meetings are about making believe that the members of the meeting are, individually and collectively, doing something important. It is all drama, and usually melodrama. That said, after reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, I now wish that there were a different sort of parliamentarian at meetings, one who, instead of policing the rules of order, policed biases of intuitions. I think this would result in better meetings or, better yet, fewer, shorter, or no meetings. If participants at meetings could be routinely called out on their biases of intuition, they would be less inclined to speak without first thinking. And, more important, I suspect that they would be more inclined to think slow before speaking rather than think fast before speaking. Also see Jim Holt, "Two Brains Running," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 11/27/2011.).