Two Systems of Mind: Characters in a Story


Kahneman uses the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West’s system of mind termed, simply, System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.¹

A good portion of the book details how these two systems interact with each other as well as impact our decision making processes.

Some Examples of System 1

(From page 37)

  • Answer 2 + 2 = ?
  • Detect hostility in a voice
  • Orient to the source of a sudden sound
  • Understand simple sentences

Kahneman views System 1 as the originator of much the deliberate choices that affect System 2.

Some Examples of System 2

(From page 39)

  • Focus attention on the clowns in a circus
  • Look for a woman with white hair
  • Search memory to identify a surprising sound
  • Tell someone your phone number
  • Fill out a tax form

The key point being that System 2 requires you to pay attention. To actively think.

And Key: How to Think of System 1 and 2 in the Form of a Narrative

…think of the two systems as agents with their individual abilities, limitations, and functions.


¹Kahneman, Daniel. “The Characters of a Story.” In Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 37.



Why Thinking, Fast and Slow

The older I’ve grown the more I find myself hanging out in the non fiction aisles of (ever dwindling) bookstores (or corners of Amazon). I suspect because more of my professional life centers around ideas, both understanding new ideas, generating my own, and articulating thoughts to colleagues and friends. Books provide intellectual stimulation of more depth than blogs or Twitter feeds (which I also love).

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” aims big. It’s intent is found on page 9:

So this is my aim for watercooler conversation: improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgement and choice, in others and eventually ourselves, by providing a richer more precise language to discuss them. In at lease some cases an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgments and choices often cause.

Professionally, I’m having to make a lot more higher level decisions. Personally, at home, I’m having (with my wife) to make daily decisions on parenting three adoptive children. So lately I’ve become VERY interested in knowing why I and the people around me make certain decisions.

Kahnmen approaches this question through cognitive science (not necessarily a philosophical approach).

Book Blogging: An Explanation

As an attempt to continue to improve myself through self-education, I’m starting a new post category called “Book Study”.  The likely format will be simple:

  • Featured blockquote from the book
  • Reflection (short)
  • Questions

Nothing too fancy. These are posts constricted by time (but hopefully consistent).

I’m starting with Daniel Kahnmen’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow


I’d like to have a better understanding of why I and those around me make the decisions we make.