Fast and Slow Thinking


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28/Jul/2015

Possibly one of the most important books of the twenty-first century is Daniel Kahneman's 'Thinking, Fast and Slow'. That's a pretty bold claim to make, but, what makes humans human is that they think, and this book is all about that.

'Fast' is Type 1 thinking. The classic example of this is that there might be a tiger in the long grass. There's no time for a careful, reasoned, consideration of the situation. Quick, and hopefully effective, behaviour is required. 'Slow' is Type 2 thinking. This is what's done when you've got time, spare mental resource, and involves thinking things through. Planning. This planning may lead to new Type 1 thinking. Tiger management procedures?

Training is adding new Type 1 'mental reflexes', or new knowledge to be used by Type 2 logic. This isn't the only source of 'Fast' thinking, as imitation is popular, as is relying on authorities. You can see some of this by after-action comments like "I didn't have time to think", or, "I just did the first thing I could think of" - these are all examples of Type 1 thinking at work.

A major problem with Type 1 thinking is that it's unconscious, though possibly involving very complex behaviour. Almost all of car driving works this way. People can get upset when they are asked to explain why they did particular things, and they can engage in 'back rationalisation', as they construct reasoning that has little or nothing to do with what happened.

Another major problem with Type 1 thinking is that it comes with a number of 'cognitive biases'. While these are interesting they're best understood by reading Kahneman's book, or at least checking Wikipedia. Another issue is that it's probably wise to not believe there are only two types of thinking.

Are there other types of thinking? This is not the same as 'altered states of consciousness', 'thinking' implies some form of information processing, which might have external applications. Kahneman did thirty-odd years of research, so we'll have to look in different directions.

Creative thinking might be arguably 'Type 3'. This emerges from the unconscious, so some would claim it is 'Type 1', and is enhanced by training as 'Type 1' thinking is. Or, is this adding Type 1 'front end' reflexes to the creative 'spark', like more effective absorption of information and 'waiting for inspiration', and new ways of developing Type 2 'checking' logic? Some see two different varieties of creativity, 'cross discipline' and 'subject exhaustive'. The first is unpredictable, and the second needs fifteen, or more, years in the subject area. Subject-exhaustive may be gap-filling, or extending suject boundaries.

People who've been in stress situations, like disasters, sometimes report that suddenly they were thinking very clearly, far quicker, more broadly, than they might expect, and sometimes that their sense of 'self' disappears, or is intensified. 'Holistically'? This may be linked to 'Peak Experiences', though these are not necessarily ecstatic, and are sometimes called 'religious experiences'. Is this 'Type 4'? Also see 'flow' and 'hyperfocus', but these are not quite the same.

Might there be any more types? It's difficult to say. Keep looking!

Daniel Kahneman on Wikipedia

Peak Experience on Wikipedia
Flow on Wikipedia
Hyperfocus on Wikipedia

(c) ROMsys Ltd, July 2015, permission given to use for non-profit making purposes

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