Kahneman's Mind-Clarifying Strangers: System 1 & System 2

Kahneman's Mind-Clarifying Strangers: System 1 & System 2


Feeling is a form of thinking. Both are ways we process information, but feeling is faster. That’s the crux of Daniel Kahneman’s mind-clarifying work. It won a psychologist an economics Nobel. And strange labels helped.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman wrestles with flawed ideas about decision making. “Social scientists in the 1970s broadly accepted two ideas about human nature. First, people are generally rational…Second, emotions…explain most of the occasions on which people depart from rationality.” But research has “traced [systematic] errors to the… machinery of cognition…rather than corruption…by emotion.”

Kahneman sidesteps centuries of confusion (and Freudian fictions) by using new—hence undisputed—terms: the brilliantly bland “System 1” and “System 2.” These strangers help by forcing you to ask about their attributes. System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach, System 2 “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” Kahneman says “System 1 is...more influential…guiding…[and]...steering System 2 to a very large extent.”

The measurable features of System 1 and System 2 cut across prior categories. Intuitive information-processing has typically been considered irrational, but System 1’s fast thinking is often logical and useful (“intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition”). Conversely, despite being conscious and deliberate System 2 can produce poor (sometimes irrational) results.

Kahneman launched behavioral economics by studying these systematic “cognitive biases.” He was astonished that economists modeled people as “rational, selfish, with tastes that don’t change,” when to psychologists “it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.”  

Kahneman’s potentially paradigm-tipping work has limitations. It is light on evolution, e.g focusing on numerically framed decisions discounts that we didn't evolve to think numerically. Math is a second nature skill, requiring much System 2 training (before becoming a System 1 skill). Also, we evolved to often act without System 2 consciously deciding (habits are triggered by System 1). Indeed cognitive biases might be bad System 1 habits rather than built in brain bugs. And cognitive biases have two sources of error, the observed behavior and what economists suppose is “rational.”

Those limitations aside, whenever pondering cognition, bear in mind the distinct traits of System 1 and System 2. Mapping mental skills (and the mini-skills they consist of) onto those labels can clarify your thinking about thinking.

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

America of the 1930s saw thousands of people become Nazi

Nazi supporters held huge rallies and summer camps for kids throughout the United States in the 1930s.

Meeting of the German American Bund held at Madison Square Garden, New York City, 20th February 1939.

Credit: Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
  • The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
  • Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.
Keep reading Show less

Coffee and green tea may lower death risk for some adults

Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.


Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
  • This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
  • The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Why San Francisco felt like the set of a sci-fi flick

But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast