Applying Kahneman to Developing a Fact-Based World View
Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” introduced us in the fall semester to the contrasting fast thinking of intuition (which includes perception, memory, and the mental shortcuts of heuristics), naming it System 1, with the slow thinking of effortful deliberation or System 2. Hans Rosling, in his book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things are better than You Think” takes Kahneman’s concepts and operationalizes them to help the reader “…get the big picture right, and improve [one’s] sense of how the world works, without…having to learn all the details.” Classified variously under both medical and social science umbrellas, Rosling desires for readers to “…feel more positive, less stressed, and more hopeful as [they] walk…into the world.” His book is a type of environmental psychology, helping readers pay better factual attention to their environment and thus develop a worldview that acknowledges positive, incremental gains the world has made, even while challenges remain. Rosling does include Kahneman’s book in his sources list, and multiple times he obliquely references Kahneman’s concepts, saying at the conclusion of his Introduction, “…if you are ready for critical thinking [System 2] to replace instinctive reaction [System 1]; and if you are feeling humble, curious, and ready to be amazed—then please read on.”
Rosling then develops his tools for Factfulness in ten chapters with a concluding chapter that explores how his practices can make a difference in the fields of education, business, and journalism. His appendix shares the 13 questions (and responses from around the world) to his Gapminder Test. Thorough notes, sources, biography, and index sections complete the book.
Rosling gave me words for the interpretation work my husband and I do between Middle Eastern and USA contexts. As I read “The Single Perspective Instinct,” I was reminded of a woman who asked us after our presentation sharing the current contexts of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and the work of both Christian and Muslim partners in those countries, “But what you share about the Middle East is so different from what I hear on the news. Who am I supposed to believe?” Rosling would say to her, “Factfulness is…recognizing that a single perspective can limit your imagination, and remembering that it is better to look at problems from many angles to geta more accurate understanding and find practical solutions.” At the time, I responded to her with something along the lines of, “We have discovered by living in the Middle East, that often our US-based media are taking up only one dimension of what is happening at any given time, and then they repeat that ad nauseum to the point that we believe that story is the only story about the region. What we’ve learned by being on the ground in this part of the Middle East is that the story is much more complex, and that there is some amazingly positive work happening. Local people are deeply committed to a better future for the coming five and more generations. So, we are hoping today you have gained a glimpse into the ‘something more’ that God is up to through local faith communities across these three countries.”
I realize now that my response to her question also drew from Rosling’s section on “The Destiny Instinct.” He writes, “Factfulness is…recognizing that many things (including people, countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly, and remembering that even small, slow changes gradually add up to big changes…remember slow change is still change.” Perhaps the place I have most seen this gradual change at work in Lebanon is through the stead, patient work of civil society organizations who have been at work since the 1990s to build capacity in local communities for representative governance, democratic decision making across a population with many religious and ethnic differences regarding practical solutions to shared problems, and empowering women to run for office. The fruit is starting to show in an increasing number of women running for public office (and winning) at local levels and local governance that is transparent and accountable. Some of those local people are running for national positions in the upcoming May parliamentary elections. It leaves me curious to see what will happen and how this election may open the way for a resolution to the current economic collapse in Lebanon.
Rosling’s eight other tools include: the gap instinct, the negativity instinct, the straight-line instinct, the fear instinct, the size instinct, the generalization instinct, the blame instinct, and the urgency instinct. In each of these, I discovered a mirror to ways I have fallen prey to one of the other of these instincts and ways I have experienced them in others. Rosling has given me practical ways to develop my toolbox for addressing these instincts in myself and to inviting others to stretch into new habits, ways to move from instinctive system 1 thinking into deliberate critical thinking of system 2 thinking.
I also valued his closing chapter and recommendations for education. In this section he expands on what he means by both humility and curiosity. “Being humble, here, means being aware of how difficult your instincts can make it to get the facts right…It is quite relaxing being humble, because it means you can stop feeling pressured to have a view about everything, and stop feeling you must be ready to defend your views all the time.” About curiosity he writes, “Being curious means being open to new information and actively seeking it out. It means embracing facts that don’t fit your worldview and trying to understand their implications.” As I focus-in on my most viable prototype for my NPO and work on creating a staged developmental model, I hope I can create a space where my stakeholders experience and develop both humility and curiosity towards one another and one another’s contexts.
 Kahneman, Daniel. 2013. Thinking, Fast and Slow. 1st pbk. ed. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
 Rosling, Hans; Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. 2020. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World–And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Flatiron Books, 6.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 202.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 249.
4 responses to “Applying Kahneman to Developing a Fact-Based World View”
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Elmarie: Great post; I also thought how this book might effect my NPO. There are so many reassuring insights in this book, I thought where can I bring positivity into my message? Good connection to our Kahneman reading, too. Now that we are at the end of this semester, we can see the wisdom and strategy of how Dr. Clark selected the books for us to read, and the order in which we read them. I’m so glad we read this book last, such a great way to end the semester. Have a great summer.
Hi Troy…thanks so much for your comment on my post. Do you have any tangible ideas for where you can bring positivity into your message?
Yes, I am deeply appreciative of the readings Dr. Clark sent our way this term…and the order!
Elmarie: Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I feel as if the resources for your NPO keep growing with each weeks reading! I’m interested to know as you reflected for yourself, do you see any tendencies of instincts that vocational missionaries or their organizations tend towards? It makes me thinking if there are pro-active steps that could be taken prior to deployment to the field.
Elmarie, such a rich post! I appreciate your story about being asked about who to believe? I remember a person sharing with me the statistic of the year prayer was removed from public schools in the US (1963) and the year-after-year decline of standardized testing by American students. His point was the removal of prayer was THE factor in declining scores. There are so many other factors to consider but he had the “facts” of statistics and resolute in his belief. I fear we humans like overly simplified answers to complex issues/questions. As you anticipate a pastoral role soon, do you have any thoughts about how you can avoid the “Single Perspective Instinct” in your role?