Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Listening Fast and Slow

Written by: on February 27, 2023

Nobel Prize recipient, Daniel Kahneman’s landmark book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” has been in publication since 2011. This groundbreaking work explores the two systems that drive the way we think.

Simply put (as if!), System 1 is fast and emotional, while System 2 is slower and more logical (Kahneman, 20).

For over 12 years, since 2011, this daunting tome has been buzzing my tower many, many times. I see it often on the best seller shelves of Barnes & Noble, and, before that, Borders Books (R.I.P.) as well as my midwest favorite: Waldenbooks (again, R.I.P). I have thumbed through it at Powells in Portland (The World’s Largest Independent Bookstore), only to set it back down out of fear and trembling. Something about that razor sharp, chewed on pencil on the cover had me freaked out, not to mention the 499 pages between the covers. I have even flirted with it at my local public library over the last decade. The flirtation was nearly consummated when, more than once, I put the book into my Amazon cart, with my finger seductively hovering over the “Buy Now” button.

I was so close. Friends, I was so close.

So when it appeared on our required reading list, my heart began to pound and drips of sweat formed around my temples. Could this be it, could it be now? More than a decade later, fate would bring us together. Serendipitously, I had one remaining credit to use on my trial Audible account. So, I used it to download Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” – a 20 hour and 2 minute listening extravaganza! I have, I’d like you to know, listened to the entire book (narrated by Patrick Egan), and I have done so at 1.4 TIMES NORMAL SPEED.

My System 1 has been working overtime, I’ll have you know. 

There are many mental events that occur automatically and require little or no effort. “We are born prepared to perceive the world around us, recognize objects, orient attention, avoid losses, and fear spiders. Other mental activities become fast and automatic through prolonged practice” (Kahneman, 21-22). Driving while listening to someone talk (ie: fellow passenger, talk radio, podcasts, audiobooks, etc) is normative. Walking while listening to something through Apple AirPods is also easy to do. It doesn’t require much. Kahneman would say that these activities are involuntary and normally run on automatic pilot (Kahneman, 22).

System 2 is quite different however, and I experienced it firsthand in a slightly humorous way.

Over the last handful of days I have been listening to this audiobook at 1.4 times normal speed, often while working around the house, preparing dinner and the like. A number of times I have accidentally bumped my Apple Watch while the Audible controls were active on the face of the watch, causing the narration to go from 1.4x speed to .5x speed. In other words, from very FAST to very SLOW. It’s like pulling the e-brake on a car, not that I’ve ever done that, but I could imagine it would be similar.

My System 2 was humorously (and it IS funny to hear Patrick Egan at 1/2 speed) invited to the listening/learning party. I was forced, if you will, to listen and assimilate differently, this time much more methodically, until I was able to press the correct buttons on my Apple Watch, that is. Because nobody’s got time for what would become a 40 hour audiobook about behavioral psychology and cognitive biases!

The cognitive biases that Kahneman, along with his partner Amos Tversky, unpack are compellingly interesting. I was especially drawn to the connection between biases and heuristics (hands-on learning), in particular WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is). This is a concept introduced in a chapter on “Jumping to Conclusions” (Kahneman, 85), and is weaved throughout the balance of the book. “Jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence is so important to an understanding of intuitive thinking…System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions” (Kahneman, 86). I wish I could bottle this entire concept and freely give it to dozens of people that went off the cognitive deep-end during the last few years (pandemic and racial/political upheaval, to name but a few mental/emotional/relational juggernauts). WYSIATI, in so many people (and humbly, perhaps even in myself), gave rise to:

  1. Overconfidence. “Failure to allow for the possibility that evidence critical to our judgement is missing” (Kahneman, 87).
  2. Framing Effects. “Different ways of presenting the same information often evokes different emotions (Kahneman, 88).
  3. Base-rate Neglect. “We found that participants in our experiments ignored the relevant statistical facts and relied exclusively on resemblance (Kahneman, 7). Later the author will provide us the abbreviation WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is), in order to expound upon this common neglect.

Kahneman, whether at 1.4 or .5 speed, has given the public an extraordinary, and comprehensive look into behavioral psychology, cognitive biases, and the brilliances and limitations of the human mind. What an impressive work.

The next time I’m at Goodwill I’ll keep an eye open for a discounted copy.

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

3 responses to “Listening Fast and Slow”

  1. Scott Dickie says:

    Hey John. Your comment related to people ‘jumping to conclusions’ as it relates to the last few years is so true. In some senses, I feel like both Friedman and Kahneman were prophets declaring a future societal reality before the rest of us really could see it. In the case of Kahneman, I am not even sure he could have guessed that all of us would simultaneously become experts in virology! Even though we all became experts with radically different conclusions, most of us were pretty dang confident in our particular position!

    I vote for a lot more ‘non-anxious presence’ in leadership and a lot more ‘system 2’ thinking in the general population!

  2. mm John Fehlen says:

    Without question (in my mind, at least), the general populace, and the body of Christ at large, jumped to a lot of conclusions. I would like to think that I didn’t, personally. But, gosh, I must have. If I were honest, and I think of myself to be a fairly balanced, level-headed guy…I bet I thought “fast” and broke a few eggs along the way.

    I do, however, recall a very distinct time-period during the last few years, in which I wisely concluded that I “didn’t need to swing at every pitch.”

    I slowed down. Didn’t “respond” to everything via video, pastoral letter, statements, policies, position papers, etc. I slowed down and let a few pitches go by and, I gotta tell you, it felt SO GOOD.

  3. Adam Harris says:

    Appreciate the posts! I have to hit on a similar note as Scott that you mentioned, “jumping to conclusions without a lot of evidence” is something I get frustrated in others and in myself. We can’t help but take very little data and make a theory out of it and sometimes say it with extreme confidence. I ended up listening to Kahneman’s Google talk while I was powering through the book and he mentioned confidence not being an indicator of accuracy. So many of my heroes in the faith world said things with such passion and confidence, and now many of them have recanted some of their earlier views, which I respect, but it makes me pause more these days while listening or speaking!

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