Thinking, Fast And Slow

Why we believe what we believe


Do you know Krista Tippett? I love the insights into the human condition that her work provides.

Recently, she interviewed Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize for basically creating behavioral economics, even though he is actually a psychologist. He’s deeply involved in understanding the psychology of judgment and decision-making.

It’s a wonderful conversation and you can hear the interview HERE.

I would also highly recommend you read his book: Thinking, Fast And Slow. It will illuminate so much of your behavior and thought, and will help you understand the world we live in today.

Finally, watch his TED talk from a few years ago, on happiness and how it eludes us, how our memory creates stories of our life. These stories are created without conscious thought. We have a “remembering self” and an “experiencing self,” and they are not actually as connected as you might expect.

It’s a fascinating subject precisely because of what is happening right now, in our country and throughout the world, this polarization of beliefs, the impossibility of either side hearing the other, much less changing the other’s beliefs.

It is always most starkly proven after a mass shooting, like Las Vegas or Sandy Hook.

Understanding why we are as we are may provide a way to at least begin hearing each other.

When I ask you about something that you believe in — whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change or whether you believe in some political position or other — as soon as I raise the question why, you have answers. Reasons come to your mind. But the reasons may have very little to do with the real causes of your beliefs. And we take the reasons that people give for their actions and beliefs, and our own reasons for our actions and beliefs, much too seriously.” ~ Kahneman

In his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman brought a core idea from academic psychology into mainstream cultural dialogue, the notion that human behavior at any given moment is an interplay between two forms or systems of thinking. The so-called System 1 thinking is fast, intuitive, and completely unreflected, things we do automatically or have learned, so that we do them, as it feels, without thinking; for example: walking, talking, reacting emotionally, knowing the answer to two plus two, driving a car. System 2 is the brain’s slower, more deliberative, and analytical mode. It doesn’t do two plus two, but it picks up 17 times 24. It gets involved in difficult life decisions, in self-control, and sometimes, in checking and correcting intuition. The main thing about System 1, Daniel Kahneman says, is that it can’t be turned off. The main thing about System 2, even though we might imagine it to be the “real,” conscious us, is that it’s lazy. It’s very capable of endorsing and rationalizing what our fast thinking is telling us to do and say.” ~ Tippett

So the real cause of your belief in a political position, whether conservative or radical left, the real causes are rooted in your personal history. They’re rooted in who are the people that you trusted and what they seemed to believe in, and it has very little to do with the reasons that come to your mind, why your position is correct and the position of the other side is nonsensical. And we take the reasons that people give for their actions and beliefs, and our own reasons for our actions and beliefs, much too seriously.” ~ Kahneman

“…even if you did destroy the arguments that people raise for their beliefs, it wouldn’t change their beliefs. They would just find other arguments. So that’s a perspective which is saddening, in some ways, but it’s about what happens in the world of ideas and in the world of politics, that we have a lot of illusions about the role of reasons — and I mean “reasons,” plural — about the role of reasons in our beliefs and decisions. It’s smaller than we think.” ~ Kahneman

“…as soon as an event occurs, we have a story. That’s automatic, that System 1 generates stories. It looks for causes, it looks for stories, and it generates its tentative stories that, if endorsed by System 2, become beliefs and opinions. But the speed at which we find explanations for things that happened makes it difficult for us to learn the deep truth. And the deep truth is that the world is much more uncertain than we feel it is. We see a version of the world that is simplified and — just a lot simpler and a lot more certain than the world really is.” ~ Kahneman

“…when people use the word “rational,” I think, what they mean by this is that there is a good reason for what you believe and what you do. If there is a good reason for it, you believe in what you do, then you are rational. But if we accept that in general, our more important beliefs are not rooted in arguments, that there is no good reason for why we have this religion or that religion or this politics or that politics; it’s just something that happened to us — that changes the nature. We shouldn’t be looking for rationality so much, because by using the word, we seem to expect it to happen. And I think that’s just not the way the mind works.” ~ Kahneman

“…the fact that arguments that feel irrefutable come to our mind so easily doesn’t mean that those arguments are the real cause of our beliefs and doesn’t mean much of anything about the validity of the argument. The way that the mind works, very frequently, is that we start from a decision, or we start from a belief, and then the stories that explain it come to our mind. And the sequence that we have when we think about thinking, that arguments come first and conclusions come later, that sequence is often reversed. Conclusions come first, and rationalizations come later.” ~ Kahneman

It is an absolutely fascinating conversation. I hope you take the time to absorb it, and then share it with others.