The Myth of Fast and Slow Thinking


I was reading a book on numerics and statistics this morning and the author quoted Kahneman (as fact) as if humans make decisions in two speeds. According to Kahneman’s binary ‘theory’ humans only make decisions at two speeds – slow/rational/analytical and fast/automatic. This is a myth, there is plenty of evidence for in-between notions of a developmental pace in decision making. Yet binary thinking is so attractive, especially to Safety.

Of course, the notion of fast and slow is contradicted by the very principle of learning.

Think back to when you learned to ride a bike, and then to be come competent. This takes more than a year.

Think about the acquisition of language to competence, that takes 12 years or more.

Think about developing competence in anything to the point where it becomes a heuristic. For example, driving a car, learning use of a computer, spreadsheet, developing mathematical skills, preparation for a career, qualification. This all takes years. Indeed, some still don’t learn wisdom after 50 years.

The concept of fast and slow is contradicted by all the evidence in cognitive neuroscience. But hey, don’t let neuroscience get in the way of belief in a myth (

This is why SPoR advocates One Brain Three Minds (1B3M) and a dialectic between fast and slow. Such an understanding changes the whole way one understands how people tackle risk and helps move away from binary judgmentalism that blames people for learning or being in a process of learning.

There are plenty of critics of Kahneman’s theory but when you are in the groove of binary symbology (mythology), you are on your way to an International best seller and, we all know that if it’s an International best seller, it must be true.

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