In my last post I discussed the part of Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow’ that I like least. In this post I will to discuss the part that I most enjoyed reading.
At the beginning of his book Kahneman sets up the idea that the human mind can be thought of as being comprised of two systems. System 1 operates quickly, with little effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it.
When I read that I immediately began to search for links to Timothy Gallwey’s concept of Self 1 and Self 2. Gallwey is a sports and business coach and author of popular ‘inner game’ books. I have read nearly all of Gallwey’s books and have written about them previously on this blog.
Gallwey observed that when he was playing tennis he seemed to have two identities. Self 2 was playing tennis and Self 1 was constantly interfering by telling him how to play and trying to get him to conform to his instructions.
It struck me that Gallwey’s Self 1 might correspond roughly to Kahneman’s System 2 and that Gallwey’s Self 2 might correspond with Kahneman’s System 1. Anyhow I didn’t find the link until I read Chapter 22 of ‘Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow’ in which Kahneman discusses his collaboration with Gary Klein, who turns out to be an admirer of Tim Gallwey's books.
Klein and Kahneman collaborated in a study directed toward answering the question of when you can trust an experienced professional who claims to have an intuition. Kahneman’s scepticism about intuitions was shaped by observing failures of intuitive judgements by experienced professionals. He observed that experienced professional e.g. clinicians, stock pickers and political scientists often had too much confidence in their intuitions. He suggests that this occurs because System 1 tends to produce quick answers to complex questions, creating coherence where there is none.
Klein’s optimism about intuitive judgements by experienced professional was shaped by studies of leaders of fire fighting teams who seem to be able to make good decisions in emergencies without comparing options or knowing how they are able to sense the best course of action to take.
Klein and Kahneman agreed that successful intuitive judgement involves pattern recognition. Two basic conditions are necessary for acquiring a skill in intuitive judgement: an environment with sufficient statistical regularity for patterns to exist; and an opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practice.
Examples of statistically regular environments include sports, games such as chess, bridge and poker, and professions such as medical practice, nursing and fire fighting. By contrast, the failure of stock pickers and political scientists who make long term forecasts reflects the unpredictability of the events they are trying to forecast.
This all makes sense to me. When I am playing golf I should learn to trust Self 2 (System 1) and when I am trying to understand economic issues I should employ System 2 (Self 1).
However, that is an over-simplification. It probably isn’t wise to rely entirely on intuition when selecting which club to use when playing golf and the intuitions of economists have probably been the source of many a useful hypothesis about relationships between economic variables.
I particularly liked the way Kahneman ends his discussion of the relationship between System 1 and System 2 in the final chapter of his book. He suggests that System 2 is who we think we are – it articulates judgements and makes choices. (That is presumably why Tim Gallwey labelled it as Self 1.) Kahneman goes on to make the point that while System 1 is the origin of most of what we do wrong, it is also the origin of most of what we do right. The judgements and choices made by System 2 often involve endorsement or rationalization of ideas and feelings generated by System 1.