A thoroughly researched, pop-culture–laden exploration of how people make choices.
Gates posits that the human mind can essentially be divided into two “systems,” the subconscious (System 1) and the conscious (System 2). Although the commonly accepted thinking is that our conscious, rational minds make better, more informed decisions, Gates argues that the spontaneous, often emotional reactions of the subconscious influence us far more than we’d like to admit. People who deny this reality and rely purely on System 2, the author says, won’t benefit as much as those who recognize and make use of their System 1 impulses. This intriguing book drives home the notion that “the Truth” isn’t a solidly defined fact but rather a perpetually shifting, ambiguous process. It’s led people to search for meaning and patterns that often aren’t there, Gates says; they fool themselves into thinking that they “know” what the best choice is, when in fact, they have no solid idea. The author notes German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer’s notion that “[t]he art...is to ignore the right kind of information.” To further illustrate its concepts, the book uses a variety of examples, examining the art of storytelling, statistics games, and quotes from leaders who engaged in ill-fated wars and political endeavors. It also makes artful use of pop-cultural references (such as a Dilbert cartoon) to elegantly encapsulate its complex subject matter. Gates opens the book with an anecdote about the various mistakes in judgment that led to the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle explosion, which serves as a visceral framing device to examine choices that NASA made that were based on faulty thinking. In this example, the author reveals that sometimes people make decisions based on the fact that an event has not transpired, and they therefore irrationally believe that it will never occur. As Gates states numerous times, this absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence, and yet people still perceive information based largely on what they wish it to mean.
A surprisingly poignant, intellectually rigorous study of how our thought processes shape our lives.