Daniel Kahneman Explains The Machinery of Thought

Daniel Kahneman

Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman is the founding father of modern behavioral economics. His work has influenced how we see thinking, decisions, risk, and even happiness.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, his “intellectual memoir,” he shows us in his own words some of his enormous body of work.

Part of that body includes a description of the “machinery of … thought,” which divides the brain into two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which “respectively produce fast and slow thinking.” For our purposes these can also be thought of as intuitive and deliberate thought.

The Two Systems

Psychologists have been intensely interested for several decades in the two modes of thinking evoked by the picture of the angry woman and by the multiplication problem, and have offered many labels for them. I adopt terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West, and will refer to two systems in the mind, System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

If asked to pick which thinker we are, we pick system 2. However, as Kahneman points out:

The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps . I also describe circumstances in which System 2 takes over, overruling the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1. You will be invited to think of the two systems as agents with their individual abilities, limitations, and functions.

System One
These vary by individual and are often “innate skills that we share with other animals.”

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. System 1 has learned associations between ideas (the capital of France?); it has also learned skills such as reading and understanding nuances of social situations. Some skills, such as finding strong chess moves, are acquired only by specialized experts. Others are widely shared. Detecting the similarity of a personality sketch to an occupational stereotype requires broad knowledge of the language and the culture, which most of us possess. The knowledge is stored in memory and accessed without intention and without effort.

System Two
This is when we do something that does not come naturally and requires some sort of continuous exertion.

In all these situations you must pay attention, and you will perform less well, or not at all, if you are not ready or if your attention is directed inappropriately.

Paying attention is not really the answer as that is mentally expensive and can make people “effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention.” This is the point of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla. Not only are we blind to what is plainly obvious when someone points it out but we fail to see that we are blind in the first place.

The Division of Labour

Systems 1 and 2 are both active whenever we are awake. System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in a comfortable low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine— usually.

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment. System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer, as probably happened to you when you encountered the multiplication problem 17 × 24. You can also feel a surge of conscious attention whenever you are surprised. System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains. In that world, lamps do not jump, cats do not bark, and gorillas do not cross basketball courts. The gorilla experiment demonstrates that some attention is needed for the surprising stimulus to be detected. Surprise then activates and orients your attention: you will stare, and you will search your memory for a story that makes sense of the surprising event. System 2 is also credited with the continuous monitoring of your own behavior—the control that keeps you polite when you are angry, and alert when you are driving at night. System 2 is mobilized to increased effort when it detects an error about to be made. Remember a time when you almost blurted out an offensive remark and note how hard you worked to restore control. In summary, most of what you (your System 2) think and do originates in your System 1, but System 2 takes over when things get difficult, and it normally has the last word.

The division of labor between System 1 and System 2 is highly efficient: it minimizes effort and optimizes performance. The arrangement works well most of the time because System 1 is generally very good at what it does: its models of familiar situations are accurate, its short-term predictions are usually accurate as well, and its initial reactions to challenges are swift and generally appropriate. System 1 has biases, however, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances. As we shall see, it sometimes answers easier questions than the one it was asked, and it has little understanding of logic and statistics. One further limitation of System 1 is that it cannot be turned off.


Conflict between an automatic reaction and an intention to control it is common in our lives. We are all familiar with the experience of trying not to stare at the oddly dressed couple at the neighboring table in a restaurant. We also know what it is like to force our attention on a boring book, when we constantly find ourselves returning to the point at which the reading lost its meaning. Where winters are hard, many drivers have memories of their car skidding out of control on the ice and of the struggle to follow well-rehearsed instructions that negate what they would naturally do: “Steer into the skid, and whatever you do, do not touch the brakes!” And every human being has had the experience of not telling someone to go to hell. One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1. In other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control.


The question that is most often asked about cognitive illusions is whether they can be overcome. The message of these examples is not encouraging. Because System 1 operates automatically and cannot be turned off at will, errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent. Biases cannot always be avoided, because System 2 may have no clue to the error. Even when cues to likely errors are available, errors can be prevented only by the enhanced monitoring and effortful activity of System 2. As a way to live your life, however, continuous vigilance is not necessarily good, and it is certainly impractical. Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions. The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high. The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.

Still Curious? Thinking, Fast and Slow is a tour-de-force when it comes to thinking.

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Paul Graham: On Arguing With Idiots, Where Ideas Come From, and What Makes Good Programmers


Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, and investor. His 2004 anthology Hackers and Painters explores the world and the people who inhabit it. He calls the book an “intellectual wild west,” and I agree.


When looking for where to find great ideas, we tend to end up in the combination space. Combining ideas from different disciplines creates new ideas. It’s repurposing something.

Graham, however, expands on this view and offers another source of new ideas as repurposing overlooked ideas.

Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that’s unthinkable.

Arguing with Idiots

What happens when you argue with an idiot? You become one.

Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.
The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts.

What Makes Good Programmers?

Few people would have better insight into the hacker culture than Graham. He believes, and I agree, that an undercurrent of disobedience can lead to healthy outcomes. Organizations spend a great deal of money hiring these people only to annoy them with pointless bureaucracy.

Those in authority tend to be annoyed by hackers’ general attitude of disobedience. But that disobedience is a byproduct of the qualities that make them good programmers. They may laugh at the CEO when he talks in generic corporate newspeech, but they also laugh at someone who tells them a certain problem can’t be solved. Suppress one, and you suppress the other.

Still Curious?

All of the essays in Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age are worth reading and thinking about.

The Six Books Bill Gates Thinks You Should Read This Summer

Bill Gates Summer 2014 Reading List

Bill Gates is out with his annual summer reading list and, while shorter than last year’s, it’s nonetheless full of interesting reads.

I ended up ordering two of them, one of which is considered to be “the best business book I’ve ever read” by both Warren Buffett and Gates.

Gates writes “I read them all earlier this year and think each one is terrific. Only one, The Rosie Project, qualifies as a typical beach read. But all six are deeply informative and beautifully written.”

1. Business Adventures, by John Brooks.

Warren Buffett recommended this book to me back in 1991, and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read. Even though Brooks wrote more than four decades ago, he offers sharp insights into timeless fundamentals of business, like the challenge of building a large organization, hiring people with the right skills, and listening to customers’ feedback. He is also a masterful storyteller, peppering his articles with compelling portraits of everyone from General Electric executives to the founder of Piggly Wiggly groceries. His article on the fate of the Ford Motor Company’s Edsel is a classic. Business Adventures is out of print in hardcover and paperback (not true, after a recommendation from Gates they ran another print, which is due out in Sept.), but you can now buy it in e-book form. And you can download chapter 5, “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox,” free. I wish all business writing were half as good.

2. Stress Test, by Timothy F. Geithner.

The central irony of Stress Test is that a guy who was accused of being a lousy communicator as U.S. Treasury Secretary has penned a book that is such a good read. Geithner paints a compelling human portrait of what it was like to be fighting a global financial meltdown while at the same time fighting critics inside and outside the Administration as well as his own severe guilt over his near-total absence from his family. The politics of fighting financial crises will always be ugly. But it helps if the public knows a little more about the subject—what’s at stake, what the options are, what has worked in similar situations—so that the loud talkers resonate a bit less and the knowledgeable ones a bit more. …

3. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

I read a lot about Teddy Roosevelt last year, around the time Melinda and I took our kids to the Panama Canal. He was instrumental in getting the canal built, and I’d assumed it was the highlight of his career. But it wasn’t. It’s a testament to the breadth and depth of Roosevelt’s accomplishments that the canal warrants only a handful of mentions in this biography. There’s just too much other fascinating material competing for space, from Roosevelt’s relationship with the press and his friendship with William Howard Taft (who was brilliant in his own right) to his efforts to fight corruption and reform the political system.

I’m especially interested in the central question that Goodwin raises: How does social change happen? Can it be driven by a single inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first? Sometimes a single leader can make a big difference: In the field of global health, Jim Grant almost singlehandedly created a global constituency for children, sparking a movement to double vaccination rates and save millions of lives. But Roosevelt’s case was different. Although he tried to push through a number of political reforms earlier in his career, he wasn’t really successful until journalists at McClure’s and other publications had rallied public support for change.

I loved Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and highly recommend this one too.

4. The Rosie Project: A Novel, by Graeme Simsion.

Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.

5. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Climate change is a big problem—one of the biggest we’ll face this century—but it’s not the only environmental concern on the horizon. Humans are putting down massive amounts of pavement, moving species around the planet, over-fishing and acidifying the oceans, changing the chemical composition of rivers, and more. Natural scientists posit that there have been five extinction events in the Earth’s history (think of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs), and Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth. Unlike a lot of people who write about the environment, Kolbert doesn’t resort to hype. She just lays out the facts and wraps them in memorable anecdotes. It’s a sobering but engaging and informative read.

6. Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System, by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.

One of the architects of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) makes the case for why the U.S. health care system needed reform and how Obamacare sets out to fix the problems. Although he was deeply involved in its creation, Emanuel is good about making it clear when he’s educating you about the history of health care and when he’s advocating for his ideas. He calls out a few things he disagreed with in Obamacare, like the creation of a separate health-insurance exchange for small businesses. And unlike a lot of experts, he’s willing to make predictions about how health care will change in the coming years. …

And Gates also included a video explaining the reads

French Nobility And The Origins of Modern Culture

"Nobles explored alternatives to patriarchal ideology not because it was weakening in the seventeenth century but because its hold over them was so very strong."
“Nobles explored alternatives to patriarchal ideology not because it was weakening in the seventeenth century but because its hold over them was so very strong.”

With increasing subordination of the noble individual to the collective, seventeenth-century French nobles moved away from tradition and towards individualism. They began to see themselves more as individuals than as the product of inheritance and tradition. Accompanying this preoccupation with the self was an increasingly critical view of society, monarchy, and religious teachings. The very foundations of the monarchy were questioned and answers focused on tradition to guide behaviour were rejected. With the newfound view that most social relations were artificial, the French nobility turned increasingly toward meaningful relationships with friends and lovers. In so doing, they illustrated the emergence of a modern culture in the wake of a traditional social order.

In his book Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture, Jonathan Dewald, a distinguished professor of history at the State University of New York at Buffalo, explores the history of individuality and the cultural push back by the seventeenth-century French nobility. It addresses how the nobility thought about their world and themselves by looking at the responses to increasing tension on personal worth, ambition, careers, money, civic order and sexuality. While these are different topics, Dewald argues they “can also be understood as aspects of a single larger problem. Each represents one form of connection between the individual and her or his society.” The book then is an elegant essay on “how aristocratic men and woman understood their bonds to the society around them at a decisive moment in the evolution of early modern society.”

While it may seem foreign now, at the time, the concept of the person as an individual flew in the face of tradition. Questioning this perspective sowed the seeds of a new worldview where tradition and social hierarchy were displaced in favor of individual pursuits.

Seventeenth century nobles became preoccupied with the nature of selfhood … and they came at the same time to doubt many of the moral underpinnings of their society. They came, in other words, to see the isolated self as real, important, and complicated, and they correspondingly doubted the value, even the reality, of the social conventions that surrounded it.

Answering cultural questions by focusing on such a small segment of society, perhaps 1 percent, begs an explanation. While limited in size, the French aristocracy at the end of the seventeenth century “exercised an influence on the rest of society out of proportion to its numbers.”

For sixteenth- and seventeenth-century nobles, everything rested on traditional order and familial continuity.

Property and political rights descended from the past, and so too did personal qualities, a dual inheritance from the individual family and the larger aristocratic order. Most nobles simply assumed these values … Yet the French nobles also participated enthusiastically in many of the most innovative currents in early modern culture. They followed and helped to shape cultural movements toward individualism, skepticism about established social arrangements, and belief in the primacy of change in human affairs.

This tension started to show itself, even in public ideological defences of the aristocracy, and was “still more evident when the nobles spoke privately, in memoirs, letters, fiction.” These intimate private thoughts exposed assumptions and fears that differed from the confident and public projections of tradition.


In the shadow of the culture he encountered in the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville ruminated on the cultural implications of aristocratic society in his masterwork Democracy in America:

Take the case of an aristocratic people interested in literature … When a small, unchanging group of men are concerned at the same time with the same subject, they easily get together and agree on certain guiding principles to direct their efforts. If it is literature with which they are concerned, strict canons will soon prescribe rules that may not be broken. If these men occupy a hereditary position in their country they will naturally be inclined not only to invent rules for themselves but to follow those laid down by their ancestors. Their code will be both strict and traditional. … Such men, beginning and ending their lives in comfortable circumstances, naturally conceive a taste for choice pleasures, full of refinement and delicacy. Moreover, the long and peaceful enjoyment of so much wealth will have induced a certain softness of thought and feeling, and even in their enjoyments they will avoid anything too unexpected or too lively. They would rather be amused than deeply moved; they want to be interested but not carried away.

The problem with Tocqueville, Dewald argues, is that he “seeks to connect specific cultural expressions both to experience and to the ideology of inheritance that undergirded the aristocracy’s existence during the Old Regime.” But treating aristocratic culture as “essentially ideological” comes with some limitations: “it implies a fundamental unity in culture, and thus shields from our view its points of uncertainty or contradiction; it often implies a functionalist view of how ideas and values form, and this seems inadequate to the complexities of both the ideas themselves and of the processes by which they developed; above all, an ideological approach to aristocratic culture treats culture as only a reflection of deeper realities, a secondary level of reality, a superstructure.”

Dewald spends most of his time in the nooks and crannies of uncertainty and contradiction.


As the nobles struggled to hold on to a slipping aristocracy, they increasingly found their life shaped by new pressures to subdue the individual in deference to the family.

Lineage gained increasing importance in public life, as social status became more clearly a matter of birth and as venal office-holding created castes within the military and the civil service; in consequence, families increasingly organized themselves along dynastic lines, celebrating paternal authority and subordinating individual desires to dynastic needs. Standards of personal behaviour rose, a process encouraged by both a reinvigorated Catholicism and by courtly libertinism; each demanded that men and women more tightly control their impulses and fit their behaviour to elaborate standards.

In the face of this backdrop the state too heightened its demands on citizens with conformity, the “rigid subordination of individual impulse to collective orderings.” The state—through a web of political influences and ambition—also made it clear that nothing was off limits and intervened regularly on issues of property, law, and distinctions of birth. This is where Dewald’s book takes us. To the “individuals’ responses to these pressures.” While some responses were enthusiastic, producing elaborate “defences of their order’s superiority to the rest of society and emphas(ing) the value of noble birth,” others were more contradictory to expectations of aristocratic life and “directly undercut respect for tradition and inheritance.”

Enthusiasm for courtly manners involved a startlingly explicit rejection of the past as a guide; and this rejection recurred in other domains, as nobles stressed the superiority of their own culture to that of the past. Similarly, the conditions of seventeenth-century warfare required sophisticated political and numerical calculations and encouraged familiarity with classical writers, who acquired renewed relevance in an age dominated by carefully organized masses of infantry. Seventeenth-century political careers demanded similar thought and focused attention on individual ambition rather than dynastic continuity as a key to understanding social arrangements. By selling high positions and by intervening so often in matters of property, the state itself disrupted belief in a stable social order and forced nobles to think carefully about money; in such circumstances, nobles came to view their society as in some sense an artificial creation rather than an organic hierarchy. In these and a variety of other specific ways, seventeenth-century conditions undermined patriarchal ideas and forced nobles into more individualistic modes of thought.

The increasing demands placed on the seventeenth-century’s nobility resulted in both “inner rebellions as well as celebrations” creating a paradox: “as family, state, and ethical ideals increasingly demanded renunciation of individual desires, men and women became increasingly absorbed in understanding themselves as individuals, and indeed in understanding personal desire itself.”

They explored their inner lives in autobiographies and novels, and they presented their lives in terms of personal achievement. They became increasingly preoccupied with emotion, which attached them to friends and lovers—in other words, to chosen objects of affection. Such deepening concern with the personal offered one response to the oppressiveness of seventeenth-century expectations.

In something J.K. Rowling could be proud of, many of the French nobility sought out social settings where distinctions of birth were disguised by anonymity.

The rejection was explicit in the case of the Académie Française, which admitted men without reference to rank. It was implicit in such events as the masked ball, the gambling party, and the decision (taken with growing frequency in the seventeenth century) to write or appear in published literary works, works that exposed author and subject to the judgment of any book-buyer. All of these choices presented momentary, experimental departures from aristocratic society itself. Like the exploration of the personal, they expressed nobles’ ambivalence about their social order. Nobles fully accepted the ordering that dynastic ideology proposed and that accorded them such a privileged place. But they also felt acutely the weight of that order.

Ironically, the conflicting demands of seventeenth-century aristocratic culture created an untenable state that fostered the more egalitarian ideologies of the eighteenth century and the weakening of the patriarchal ideology.

Nobles explored alternatives to patriarchal ideology not because it was weakening in the seventeenth century but because its hold over them was so very strong. … Seventeenth-century aristocratic culture … placed contradictory demands on its participants, between, for instance, ideals of inheritance and of individual ambition. By the early eighteenth century, the weight of these contradictions had for many nobles become intolerable. The more egalitarian ideologies of the eighteenth century, it may be suggested, offered resolution of contradictions that had become burdensome beyond endurance. From this vantage point, Louis XIV’s rise to power seems less a turning point than does his death.

Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture offers a beautiful exploration of how French nobles, in the face tightening restrictions on the individual, sowed the seeds of modern culture.

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What The Rich Read At the Beach

JP Morgan Reading List 2014

With summer quickly approaching it’s about time to hit the beach.

What should you read?

J.P. Morgan Chase might be the most well-read bank in the world and they have some suggestions for you.

Not only does the bank give its interns a daunting reading list but it also gives its rich clients a list of suggestions as well. Darin Oduyoye, who heads up communications for J.P. Morgan’s Asset Management division, says the list was started as a way to keep in touch with clients throughout the summer.

Getting on the famous list is about as easy as becoming a millionaire: 568 titles were submitted from J.P. Morgan Asset Management offices around the world this year and reviewed by a 16-person committee that must have done nothing but read for a year. That’s 35 books per person, fewer than the 161 I read in the past year, but still way above average. When the list first came out the competition was easier with only 115 recommendations vying for the coveted 10 spots.

Even the CEO, Jamie Dimon, chimes in with suggestions.

Here’s this year’s list of summer reading for the bank’s wealthy clients:

Art & Place: Site-Specific Art of the Americas

From the world’s premier publisher of books on the visual arts comes a stunning volume that will delight art lovers and art collectors. Art & Place takes readers to 60 cities across the Americas to some of the most provocative and fascinating site-specific artworks in the Western Hemisphere—illustrating the inexplicable link between the chosen artworks and the places they reside.

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, by Arianna Huffington

Executives around the globe know that money and power can often only make someone so happy. It’s finding the “third metric” that truly provides the keys to passion, joy and fulfillment in one’s life. In Thrive, Arianna Huffington—one of the most influential women in the world—takes the reader on his or her own journey of self-realization. Combining a deep personal narrative with scientific data, Huffington formulates a new model for total well-being.

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo

Go inside the minds of TED’s online presenters. A nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, TED—Technology, Entertainment and Design—features short, powerful talks on myriad subjects. Public-speaking coach Carmine Gallo pinpoints the top tips of the celebrated community’s most popular presenters. With advice to hone the skills of even well-seasoned executives, Talk Like TED is a fascinating and infinitely helpful look at one of the world’s most common fears.

The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley.

Philanthropists, endowments and foundations are often presented with lists of challenges in American cities—political barriers to growth, lack of economic diversity, immigration. But Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley carry the banner for cities that are getting it right. The Metropolitan Revolution highlights success stories from some of America’s most-populous areas and shows that big improvements can happen quickly when people are willing to make small changes.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

As societies progress, those who can best adapt to change have the highest chance of success. MIT’s Brynjolfsson and McAfee detail the vast technological changes that are already underway, and provide a look at the potential changes to come. They also unveil a plan of action to understand, cope with and embrace the transformative nature of society today. For the forward-thinking business executive, this is a book that shouldn’t be missed.

Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind, by Biz Stone

Who better than Biz Stone to offer advice and inspiration to up-and-coming entrepreneurs and next-generation leaders ready to take the reins of the family business? The co-founder and co-inventor of Twitter provides invaluable insights. Combining examples from his own life, principles he’s learned along the way, and true stories from his experiences at Google and Twitter, Stone presents a well-paced, informative personal narrative on the creative process.

The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, by Michio Kaku

The secrets of the human brain are revealed in this powerful work by renowned physicist and futurist Dr. Michio Kaku. The Future of the Mind guides the reader on a journey of scientific discovery, illustrating that many facets of the world’s most intriguing science fiction stories—such as telepathy, telekinesis and mind control—may, in fact, already exist. Kaku provides a glimpse into the potential of future and new possibilities as the human mind becomes linked with modern technology.

Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking, by Rawia Bishara

Bishara will always be quick to point out that her first name means “storyteller” in Arabic. She deftly lives up to it, taking the reader through tales of her own life and culture, with her beloved cuisine serving as a guide. Bishara has instilled in her book the same warmth and comfort that can be found in her neighborhood eatery, Brooklyn’s Tanoreen.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, by Col. Chris Hadfield

What’s worse than being locked out of the house? Having it happen 200 miles above the surface of the Earth while traveling more than 17,000 miles per hour. Journey with Colonel Chris Hadfield as he breaks into a locked space station, and learn how his NASA training prepared him for the seemingly impossible. Hadfield shares his insights into thinking on your feet and maintaining calm during even the direst crises.

The Billionaire and the Mechanic: How Larry Ellison and a Car Mechanic Teamed Up to Win Sailing’s Greatest Race, the America’s Cup, by Julian Guthrie

The 34th America’s Cup will be remembered as one of the most exciting and improbable comebacks in the history of offshore yacht racing. But for Larry Ellison, his Oracle Team USA’s first win—in 2010—will always be epic. This story of an equally improbable partnership between an auto mechanic and one of the world’s wealthiest individuals will captivate sports enthusiasts, amateur yachters and fans of Ellison’s helmsman Ben Ainslie.

5 Simple Notions that Help Solve Problems

Here are five simple notions, found in Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger, that Charlie Munger, the Billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett, finds helpful in solving problems.

1. Simplify

My first helpful notion is that it is usually best to simplify problems by deciding big “no-brainer” questions first.

2. Numerical Fluency

The second helpful notion mimics Galileo’s conclusion that scientific reality is often revealed only by math, as if math was the language of God. Galileo’s attitude also works well in messy practical life. Without numerical fluency, in the part of life most of us inhabit, you are like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

3. Invert

Inverting the problem won’t always solve it, but it will help you avoid trouble. Call it the avoiding stupidity filter.

The third helpful notion is that it is not enough to think problems through forward. You must also think in reverse, much like the rustic who wanted to know where he was going to die so that he’d never go there. Indeed, many problems can’t be solved forward. And that is why the great algebraist, Carl Jacobi, so often said: “invert, always invert.” And why Pythagoras thought in reverse to prove that the square root of two was an irrational number.

4. Study The Basics

The basics are something that keeps coming up. The first of the five elements of effective thinking is understand deeply.

Munger also believes in the basics:

The fourth helpful notion is that the best and most practical wisdom is elementary academic wisdom. But there is one extremely important qualification: you must think in a multidisciplinary manner. You must routinely use all the easy-to-learn concepts from the freshman course in every basic subject. Where elementary ideas will serve, your problem solving must not be limited, as academia and many business bureaucracies are limited, by extreme balkanization into disciplines and subdisciplines, with strong taboos against any venture outside assigned territory. …

If, in your thinking, you rely on others, often through purchase of professional advice, whenever outside a small territory of your own, you will suffer much calamity.

This happens in part because professional advisors are often undone, not by their conscious malfeasance rather by troubles found in their subconscious bias.

His cognition will often be impaired, for your purposes, by financial incentives different from yours. And he will also suffer from the psychological defect caught by the proverb: to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

5. Lollapalooza Effects

And you need to combine really big things.

The fifth helpful notion is that really big effects, lollapalooza effects, will often come only from large combinations of factors. For instance, tuberculosis was tamed, at least for a long time, only by routine combined use in each case of three different drugs. And other lollapalooza effects, like the flight of an airplane, follow a similar pattern.

Still Curious?

See how Munger applies these in this essay. Learn more about the wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger by picking up a copy of Poor Charlie’s Almanack and Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Charlie Munger.

Warren Buffett on Scorecards, Investing, Friends, and the Family Motto

Farnam Street

This website is named after a street located in Omaha, Nebraska. An amazing place, Omaha is famous for being the home of Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men. The headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway — and his house — just happen to be on “Farnam Street.” The name of this website is a homage to both Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger.

While Buffett is famous for his investing acumen, he’s also full of sage wisdom on life and living.

In October 2009, while the housing crisis was still in full effect, his authorized biography The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life hit the shelves.

Here are some of his lessons on life and investing.

Three Early Lessons in Investing

Having bought three shares of Cities Service Preferred at the age of 11, Buffett learned a valuable lesson. After the stock plunged from $38.25 to $27 a share. His sister Doris reminded him daily on the way to school that her stock was going down. Buffett felt “terribly” responsible. When the stock recovered he sold with a slight $5 profit. Almost immediately after, Cities Service quickly soared to $202 a share.

Warren learned three lessons and would call this episode one of the most important of his life. One lesson was not to overly fixate on what he had paid for a stock. The second was not to rush unthinkingly to grab a small profit. He learned these two lessons by brooding over the $ 492 he would have made had he been more patient. It had taken five years of work, since he was six years old, to save the $ 120 to buy this stock. Based on how much he currently made from selling golf balls or peddling popcorn and peanuts at the ballpark, he realized that it could take years to earn back the profit he had “lost.” He would never, never, never forget this mistake. And there was a third lesson, which was about investing other people’s money. If he made a mistake, it might get somebody upset at him. So he didn’t want to have responsibility for anyone else’s money unless he was sure he could succeed.

The Scorecard

This is an important one to keep in mind. If we place too much emphasis on what the world thinks, we end up with an outer scorecard.

I feel like I’m on my back, and there’s the Sistine Chapel, and I’m painting away. I like it when people say, ‘Gee, that’s a pretty good-looking painting.’ But it’s my painting, and when somebody says, ‘Why don’t you use more red instead of blue?’ Good-bye. It’s my painting. And I don’t care what they sell it for. The painting itself will never be finished. That’s one of the great things about it.

The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard. I always pose it this way. I say: ‘Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?’ Now, that’s an interesting question.

This has implications if you’re a parent: What you put emphasis on matters.

If all the emphasis is on what the world’s going to think about you, forgetting about how you really behave, you’ll wind up with an Outer Scorecard.

Hang Around People Better Than You

After graduating from Columbia University, Buffett returned to Omaha to live with his parents. He spent part of that first summer fulfilling his obligation to the National Guard. While he wasn’t a natural, it sure beat going off to fight in Korea. Part of his duties in the guard required him to attend training camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a few weeks. That experience taught him an incredible lesson that he’d carry forward for the rest of his life.

“It’s a very democratic organization. I mean, what you do outside doesn’t mean much. To fit in, all you had to do was be willing to read comic books. About an hour after I got there, I was reading comic books. Everybody else was reading comic books, why shouldn’t I? My vocabulary shrank to about four words, and you can guess what they were.

“I learned that it pays to hang around with people better than you are, because you will float upward a little bit. And if you hang around with people that behave worse than you , pretty soon you’ll start sliding down the pole. It just works that way.”

The Buffett Family Motto

As simple as it is powerful.

“Spend less than you make” could, in fact, have been the Buffett family motto, if accompanied by its corollary, “Don’t go into debt.”

On Why he Wanted Money

Even when he was little he was always fixated on money. He wanted money. Why?

“It could make me independent. Then I could do what I wanted to do with my life . And the biggest thing I wanted to do was work for myself . I didn’t want other people directing me. The idea of doing what I wanted to do every day was important to me.”


In July of 1952, Susie Buffett, having been married only a few months to Warren, went to Chicago with her parents and new in-laws for the Republican convention. The convention was covered on television for the first time in history. Warren, who stayed in Omaha, watched eagerly — “struck by the power of this medium to magnify and influence events.”

The front-runner was Senator Robert Taft, known as “Mr. Integrity.” He wanted three things: (1) small government; (2) pro-business; and (3) eradicate Communism. Taft’s friend and Warren’s father, Howard Buffett, was the head of his presidential campaign. Taft’s main opponent was the moderate and popular war hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

While it might have been the first convention covered by television it still lives in the history books as one of the most controversial Republican conventions. Eisenhower backers pushed through a controversial amendment to the rules that handed him the nomination on the first ballot. Taft and his supporters were, of course, outraged.

But Eisenhower soon made peace with them by promising to combat “creeping socialism.” Taft insisted that his followers swallow their outrage and vote for Eisenhower for the sake of regaining the White House. The Republicans united behind him and his running mate, Richard Nixon; “I Like Ike” buttons sprouted everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except on Howard Buffett’s chest. He broke with the party by refusing to endorse Eisenhower.

This was an act of political suicide. His support within the party evaporated overnight. He was left standing on principle— alone. Warren recognized that his father had “painted himself into a corner.” From his earliest childhood, Warren had always tried to avoid broken promises, burned bridges, and confrontation. Now Howard’s struggles branded three principles even deeper into his son: that allies are essential; that commitments are so sacred that by nature they should be rare; and that grandstanding rarely gets anything done.

Still Curious?

While reading about Buffett won’t make you as smart as he is, you might learn something in the process. Pick up a copy of The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life and give it a shot.

The History of the Martini

James Bond and the medical benefits of shaking, not stirring your Martini.
James Bond and the medical benefits of shaking, not stirring your Martini.

The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft contains an excellent historical overview of the Martini.

We’ll never know with absolute certainty when the Martini was born, or who was its creator, but my research points toward the drink being a direct descendant of the Manhattan. Recipes for the Martini started to appear in cocktail books in the late 1800s, and many of them were very similar, and sometimes identical, to recipes for the Martinez, a cocktail that appeared in print in the 1880s and was often described as “a Manhattan, substituting gin for the whiskey.” Thus, theoretically at least, the Martinez was a variation on the Manhattan.

The first Martinis were made with Old Tom (sweetened) gin. sweet vermouth, bitters, and maraschino liqueur, and even when the the Dry Martini came into being, circa 1906, it contained bitters as well as dry gin and dry vermouth. Orange bitters remained an ingredient in Dry Martinis right through tot he 1930s, but by the late 1940s the drink was being made with just dry gin and dry vermouth, and the amount of vermouth used was getting smaller and smaller.

Many of the first Dry Martinis were made with equal amounts of gin and vermouth, but by the early 1950s some bartenders had already started to use atomizers to dispense the vermouth into the rink, and bitters had been dropped from the recipe. So the Dry Gin Martini, as we know it today, has been around for over half a century.

These days, many cocktails are known as Martinis even though they contain no gin (or even vodka) and vermouth, dry or sweet, is nowhere to be found in the recipe. These drinks are merely cocktails, but for one reason or another, during the cocktail craze of the 199s, they were dubbed Martinis. Martini, therefore, has become another word for a cocktail of any kind, just as long as it can be served in a Martini glass. Many purists abhor this phenomenon. …

Martinis should be stirred and not shaken, simply because the sight of a bartender lovingly stirring this drink for at least twenty to thirty seconds is something that people enjoy. Stirring for approximately 30 seconds will yield a drink that’s just as cold as one that has been shaken for 10 seconds—it’s worth the time. Shake it if you must, and if a customer requests that the drink be shaken, then that’s how it should be made. Never use gin or vodka from the fridge or freezer, since the spirit will be too cold to melt enough ice—a very necessary ingredient in a well-made Martini.

You can make Martini’s with white rum or tequila, but they aren’t very good drinks. Gin marries perfectly with vermouth, and vodka, too, is a good base spirit to use. The ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth is entirely up to your discretion, but although many people prefer a mere hint of vermouth in their Martinis, I suggest that you start by using one part vermouth to each four or five parts base spirit. Taste the drink, and on future occasions you can alter the proportions to suit your preferences. …

Choosing specific bottlings of gin, vodka, and vermouth is of tantamount importance when making a Martini, and the ratio of vermouth to base spirit can vary with your choice of gin or vodka. Some gins—Bombay, Leyden, and Gordon’s, for instance—aren’t as intensely perfumed and dry as such bottling as Taqueray, Beefeater, Boodles, Van Gogh, Junipero, or Plymouth. The “softer” bottlings, therefore, will need less vermouth than the later category of gins. The same applies, though to a far lesser extent, to vodkas. These spirits, however, don’t vary enough in character for the ratios to be differentiated from one bottling to another, so it’s pretty futile to attempt to give guidance in this respect. Experiment until you find your favorite ratio.

Vermouths, too, vary from one label to another, though most of the recognizable brands, such as Noilly Prat, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi, are fine products. …

As for garnishes, I prefer a pimiento-stuffed olive in a Gin Martini and a lemon twist in a Vodka Martini, but many new garnishes, such as olive stuffed with almonds or anchovies, are not available, and you should experiment with whatever takes your fancy. Always remember that the Martini is a purely American drink, and therefore people should be able to exercise freedom of speech when requesting one: If somebody wants a Gin Martini made with with equal parts gin and vermouth, a splash or two of bitters, and a pickled tomato for a garnish, then that’s the way the Martini should be made.

The Recipe

2 1/2 ounces of gin or vodka
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth
1 olive or lemon twist, for garnish

Stir and Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.


Still curious? Learn more about your drinks by reading The Joy of Mixology this summer.