System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy.
- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (81)
I spent the greater part of my working hours this past week removing books from the library shelves and stamping them “withdrawn.” Feeling something of the executioner, I began to muse on the psychological effect it might have on me to stamp the word, “withdrawn” “withdrawn” “WITHDRAWN” over and over again.
One further limitation of System 1 is that it can not be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it (25)
Daniel Kahneman’s fascinating book, Thinking Fast and Slow names the differing ways of thinking, respectively, System 1 and System 2. The part we know and believe to be firmly in control is System 2, all activity that requires conscious thought lives in this system. The unfortunate news that Kahneman shares in his book is the overwhelming evidence that System 1 is in fact (smugly, no doubt) running the show. System 1 is so firmly in control of our reactions, impressions, and judgements, that it hardly need deign to acknowledge its domination.
The technical definition of heuristics is a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions. The word comes from the same root as eureka (98).
Admittedly heuristics is a good thing. We are not after all computers and lack the ability to algorithmically function in real time. Lord knows I’m all for split second, heuristics. Or so I thought. I don’t want to make an enemy of my own brain, but the fact that System 1′s default attitude is to believe, always to believe, concerns me.
declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true (212).
Halo effect, illusions of validity, hindsight effect, coherence, over confidence, context dependency- the list of pit falls, oversights, blind spots and standard issue mental sloth is depressing me. Standing in the back of the stacks with my red stamp – withdrawn, withdrawn, withdrawn, the frame of my life takes on a rather pathetic hue. What might I be feeling if the word was “discard?” I shudder to think. But never mind “discard,” the depressing point, according to Kahneman is that if the word had been “keep” or “valued” I probably would not have even noticed. It doesn’t fit into my story.
A single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches (302).
As the acidic paper of the books I remove from the shelves flake and fall, strewing my hair and the floor with brittle specks of lonely confetti, I force System 2 to step it up. How we frame events, the tension between our remembering selves and our experiencing selves makes a real difference to the actual quality of our lives. Kahneman mentions movements and policies, at the end of the book, that aim to help us help ourselves when dealing with all of our innate (and not always negative) judgment disabilities. And that is some cause for celebration. For hope.
Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound (367).
An admission that we know nothing, yet relentlessly protect our belief systems against reality, is a healthy thing to keep in mind – I’m talking to you System 1! Understanding how profound our mental biases and tendencies are leaves me feeling that much more like useless confetti helplessly blowing about- it’s no use! but, never fear- my optimism bias kicks in and I just KNOW that acceptance is the first step! All is well, all goes well, all goes as well as it possibly could – oh dear, I must confess my cynicism bias can kick my optimism bias’s ass any day of the week…..In the meantime I take some solace in the ineluctable certainly that, it is not just me. My predictable predilection of perception fallibility is matched only by yours. Solidarity, my fellow humans!
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it (402)