What’s 17 times 24? You probably can’t be bothered to work out the answer. The part of the brain necessary is what Daniel Kahneman calls System 2, the ‘thinking’ bit that is only occasionally used for unexpected problems. System 1, on the other hand, rumbles along continuously in the background, effortlessly completing the regular tasks we’ve done a million times: walking, bouncing balls, driving at 70mph down the M1.
These two basic principles are the lead characters in a book that meanders through the collated research of hundreds of psychologists and ultimately tries to work out why we make the decisions we do.
The book certainly succeeds in presenting head-hurting ideas simply, with no presumption of special knowledge. The chapters are short and digestible: ‘The Engine of Capitalism’ and its exploration of ego feels particularly relevant.
Kahneman is notable for being the only non-economist ever to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, and here his crossover appeal is easy to see. His writing is not only accessible (or ‘pop’, to his critics) but widely applicable.
Whatever our profession and beliefs, our lives are made up of a constant stream of decision-making. All Kahneman asks is that we think again. Oh, and it’s 408, by the way.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Penguin) £25