We are examining the question of whether humans can improve their thinking on the basis of the scientific facts presented by Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. On page 472 he said “… I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely …” But this is already a significant improvement. Kahneman learned to recognize such situations the hard way — maybe the hardest way — by devoting his life to the scientific discovery and description of these situations “in which errors are likely”. We do not have to do nearly as much work as Kahneman did in order to recognize these situations because we can learn them either on our own (start by reading Kahneman’s book) or we can learn them through our education processes — in one way or another, at least to some extent, we can learn which situations are dangerous and which ones are not Then when we recognize such dangerous situations, when we “recognize the signs that [we] are in a cognitive minefield, slow down and ask for reinforcement from System 2.” In other words, slow down and think slow. Kahneman (and other psychologists) did the discovery work. All we have to do is to learn the results and use them in our thinking. Thus we improve our thinking. As I said, this is already a significant improvement in our thinking.
It can be very discouraging now to see the mistakes, fallacies, and general ignorance displayed by economists, financial players, politicians, decision makers of all types — all of us. We make decisions, choices, little ones and big ones, every day of our lives, minute by minute. One could read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and despair. I reject that. Every fallacy, every mistake, every error in thinking identified and described at least opens up the possibility of fixing it or avoiding it. By learning and understanding the limits of our real human thinking now, we can improve it, we can get rid of some of the limits now and in the not too distant future. Some day there will be no more stock pickers (chapter 20, The Illusion of Validity).
And by the way, we can improve our thinking too if we stop using war memes — “cognitive minefield”.