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.

There are two modes of thinking that all of us are familiar with. And there is one mode, one way for thoughts that come to mind and listen to this. You know about this lady that she’s… I think adjust as quickly as you know her hair is dark. And it’s interesting to dwell a bit about this. It is — this is not something that the judgment that she is angry, the impression that she is angry doesn’t feel like something you did. It feels like something that happens. It happens to me. We have the basic experience is a passive experience in those judgments. And that is true of perception, when we see the world we don’t decide to see it.

It is true of impression And it is true in general what we call intuitive thinking. It just happens. It comes from somewhere. And we are not the author of it.

Now, there is another way that thoughts come to mind and here I suppose essentially nothing came to your mind, but the answer is 408. To produce the 408, requires a completely different kind of operation. You have to retrieve the program that you learned in school. The program consists of steps. You have to go through the steps.

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You’ve got to pay attention successively to partial products and so on. And keep things in mind and keep the whole program in mind. This is how it works. This is something that you do. It is not something that happens to you.

And there are many indications that this is how it works. One is that Physiology indicates and this is how it works: pupil dilates. This is something that I studied many, many years ago that people really on a program like that if you’re on a problem like that if you’re going to do it in your head, your pupil will dilate. The area will increase by about 50% as soon as you engage in that. And it will stay dilated as long as you’re working and it will sort of collapse back to normal size either when you quit or when you find the answer.

So this is another way thoughts come to mind. And this is definitely not the intuitive way. Here we are we feel a sense of urgency. We feel something deliberate is happening and a very important aspect of it this is effortful and what psychologists mean by effort is basically, if you want the quick introduction to what effort is, this is something you cannot do while making a left turn into traffic. You cannot do it and you shouldn’t try.

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