Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Daniel Kahneman

Here is the full transcript of psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s talk on Thinking, Fast and Slow @ Talks at Google conference.


John Boyd: All right. I’m John Boyd.

It is my great pleasure to introduce Professor Kahneman today. And I just want to give you a brief background on his outstanding career. He started in 1954, received his bachelors in experimental psychology, and mathematics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1961, he was awarded his PhD from University of California, Berkeley right across the bay in Experimental Psychology,

In 1979, he and his coauthor Amos Tversky published their seminal paper on Prospect Theory which started to change the way people reframed the argument around gains, losses, and decision-making under uncertainty. Several years later in 2002, Professor Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize largely on the work of Prospect Theory. And Nobel Prize isn’t always impressive; his perhaps more so because there isn’t a Nobel Prize in psychology. He had to win his Nobel Prize in economics.

And as far as I know, there’s only one other person, one other psychologist, who’s won a Nobel Prize and that’s Ivan Pavlov. He may be a physiologist, we could argue about that.

Years later, in 2007, Psychologist tried to reclaim Professor Kahneman as one of their own when the American Psychological Association awarded him Lifetime Distinguished Contribution Award. And today he is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and he’s here to talk about his new book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Now Google’s mission which we all know is to take the world’s information and to make it more useful and universally accessible. And all information, all knowledge, is important, but I think some again is more important than others. Because the information that he’ll present today I think it’s very personal; it’s about each of us. And, if you’ll listen carefully it’s going to change the way you think about yourself and the world around you.

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So please join me in welcoming Professor Kahneman to Google.

Daniel Kahneman: Thank you. Well, I think intuition has been discussed a lot in recent years and I’ll be talking about intuition.

There are two camps in this discussion; naturally there is the pro and the con. And of course, many people here will have read Malcolm Gladwell Blink which although it’s not unconditional defense of intuition, it certainly gave people the impression that sometimes we magically know things without knowing why we know them. Within the discipline of psychology and the decision making there is a group and it is headed by a very interesting figure called Gary Klein who wrote a book that I recommend: Sources of Power is one of his books that I would recommend the most warmly.

And they are great believers in expert intuition. The other side there are skeptics about intuition in general and including expert intuition. And I have long been counted as one of the skeptics because my early work with Amos Tversky was about intuitive errors and flaws and biases of intuitive thinking. Today you find that discussion in many places and for example in medicine among the popular writers; two writers both of whom write for the New Yorker, Jerome Groopman and Atul Gawande. They clearly differ.

Atul Gawande is in favor of formal systems, very skeptical about human judgment and wanting to prove all the time and Jerome Groopman being in fact, although he doesn’t quite admit he really likes good old fashioned medical intuition. Of course, he likes physicians well-educated. But he doesn’t like formal system and the issue in medicine is “What are the role of evidence based medicine and how do you allocate that with the function of intuition?”

The background actually, part of the background for what I’ll talk about today is a strange collaboration in which I engaged with about eight years with Gary Klein, whom I mentioned. He is a guru of a group of people who really, I wouldn’t say they despise what I do but they certainly don’t like what I do because they think that the emphasis and biases of judgment has drawn an unjustly unfavorable picture of the human mind. And by and large I am inclined to agree.

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Seven or eight years ago, I invited him and we worked together for a number of years trying to figure out where is the boundary? Where is intuition marvelous and where is it flawed? And I think we can tell. And we wrote a paper at the end of six or seven years with a lot of vicissitudes that we went through since we basically don’t agree. We wrote a paper the title of which was A Failure to Disagree, because on the substance I think we know and we both agree where you can trust intuition and where you cannot.

Emotionally we haven’t changed. He still hates the biases and doesn’t think that errors of experts are very funny and I think that errors of experts are quite funny, so that’s a difference right there.

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