Cleaveland: 'Thinking fast and slow', or not at all

Photo by Susan Walsh of The Associated Press / Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a briefing with the coronavirus task force at the White House in Washington on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

In his influential 2011 best-seller, "Thinking, Fast and Slow," psychologist Daniel Kahneman analyzes the processes by which we make decisions. The book summarizes years of research conducted with his colleague, Amos Tversky, and others. Application of Kahneman's work to the field of economics led to his sharing the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 with another experimental psychologist, Vernon L. Smith.

Kahneman describes two mutually exclusive systems that we may employ when dealing with choices. The "fast" system is appropriate when we must make abrupt decisions where delay could result in loss or even injury or death. These decisions are driven by emotion. We use short-cuts in this system, relying on past experiences. Biases may influence these decisions. For example, we set out in a canoe to cross a lake.