“When you are asked what you are thinking about, you can normally answer. You believe you know what goes on in your mind, which often consists of one conscious thought leading in an orderly way to another. But that is not the only way the mind works, nor indeed is that the typical way. Most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without your knowing how they got there.”
Nobel prize winning Economist-Psychologist Daniel Kahneman unravels the mind into two complementary systems. These systems, aptly titled System 1 and System 2, are described in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow:
“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.”
“When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book. I describe System 1 as effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. 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.”
Kahneman goes on to point out many circumstances in which the system best suited to the situation is not making himself heard. In other words, we choose to go with our gut, proceed by intuition, or run on autopilot, when we should be paying a little more attention.
“One of the main functions of System 2 is to monitor and control thoughts and actions “suggested” by System 1, allowing some to be expressed directly in behavior and suppressing or modifying others.
For an example, here is a simple puzzle. Do not try to solve it but listen to your intuition:
A bat and ball cost $1.10.
The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
A number came to your mind. The number, of course, is 10: 10¢. The distinctive mark of this easy puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing, and wrong. Do the math, and you will see. If the ball costs 10¢, then the total cost will be $1.20 (10¢ for the ball and $1.10 for the bat), not $1.10. The correct answer is 5¢.”
The book in its entirety is lucid, eye-opening, and provides actionable insights regarding our own susceptibility to these errors of thinking. It’s available on Amazon.