Kahneman’s Mind Clarifying Work: How Mysterious Coinages Can Help

Feeling is a form of thinking. Both are ways of processing data, one is just faster. Daniel Kahneman's mysterious coinages (System 1 and System 2) show how new language can help sidestep centuries of confusion. 

Kahneman’s Mind Clarifying Work: How Mysterious Coinages Can Help

Feeling is a form of thinking. Both are ways of processing data, one is just faster. Establishing those re-conceptions required a powerful scientific technique that needs no instruments or mathematics, just new language. What Daniel Kahneman calls “theory induced blindness” can be cured by artful use of mysterious new coinage.

1. Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, identifies key flaws in conventional thinking about how we think. “Social scientists in the 1970s broadly accepted two ideas about human nature. First, “people are generally rational.” Second, emotions mostly explain why “people depart from rationality.”

2. Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning work “traced…[systematic] errors to the design of the machinery of cognition” not “corruption…by emotion.” Grasping this requires new “richer and more precise language.” But novelty alone doesn’t always cut it for a confusion-ectomy, sometimes meaninglessness creates needed curiosity.

3. Kahneman neatly sidesteps centuries of confusion by using new, and hence undisputed terms: the brilliantly bland labels “System 1” and “System 2.” Unlike the novel but readily decipherable phrase “theory induced blindness,” the meaning and attributes of System 1 and 2 have to be learned. Mystery is key to their utility.

4. The empirical attributes of System 1 and System 2 cut across unhelpful distinctions embedded in prior terms. Intuitive information-processing was typically deemed irrational, but System 1’s fast thinking is often useful and logical. And though we’d like to think we reason well when we do it consciously, our System 2 often produces bad “irrational” results. These counter-conventional observations lead to what Kahneman labels “cognitive biases” (though that label itself has issues).

5. Language-laundering risks bringing forward old confusing baggage, but new neutral language can enable what Daniel Dennett calls “jootsing,” = “jumping out of the system.”

6. Unencumbered coinages, like jootsing, can enable jootsing. To terminate terminological wrangling and deconfuse a field, sometimes requires clear-cutting category-defining terms, restarting with a blank semantic slate, and rebuilding clusters of features around new, neutral labels.

A version of “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” applies: Nothing in human behavior makes sense except in the light of Systems 1 and 2. We should map all human data processing onto Kahneman‘s clarifying labels.

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


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For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."