Let me introduce two systems of our minds:
1. System1 – intuitive, quick thinking, our gut feeling
2. System2 – rational, slow thinking, this is where we “feel” our consciousness is
To be so quick, intuition has to rely on heuristics – simplified, sometimes plainly simplistic sets of rules to problem solving. These rules are based on experience, associative memory and antagonistic instincts. All of our cognition is managed primarily by System1. It has basically three primary goals – keep us living, get us procreate and do both while using least amount of energy possible. On the other hand, System2 is used to deal with more complex problems, where all the contradictions should be solved.
How gut feeling works
Information gets into our brains. Our brain automagically interprets it and judges through associating signals with our experience and hardwired, animalistic reactions. Still automagically, our limbic system (the old brain) decides if our muscles need to be stimulated and if we need to get some hormones. Feelings and emotion emerge to motivate us in some way. Images pop up to our consciousness. And then, after all those our conscious minds are aware (mostly in part) what’s going on. Crucial decisions already took place – rational neo cortex (new brain – mostly all frontal lobe) only reacts. Reacts in situation defined by animalistic instincts – that needs to be added.
Pros and cons of relying on intuition
There is no doubt about that System1 works with humongous amounts of data. To process all of those consciously would take nearly forever. So whole quick thinking for the quickness itself is absolutely a positive. Another is that it works with subtle information, scattered or hard to consciously catch. It takes them all into account (at least to some extent) which is a limited feature for System2. And it always produces some decision – wrong or correct, but always tries to bet on something. Find some explanation, some pattern.
The greatest con is that it is prone to make systemic errors. Especially today we face many challenges and problems that are extremely counterintuitive. Our intuitions are terrible with statistics. Absolutely hopeless. Especially with taking to account base statistic, not only what looks like a pattern (ie. guy looks like librarian, so he is one; he’s orderly and unwilling to party). Gut feeling often wrongly judge the importance of information (ie. basing on sympathies). And it works with obsolete, antagonistic references (ie. idea of social proof – assuming what others do is correct).
Heuristics aren’t perfect. Intuition has it’s certain and obvious pros and also undoubted cons. In the perfect world of balance between two Systems we could alter states induced though System1 by strict reaction of our aware mind. But that’s not the case.
I would suggest few things:
· Try to learn about decisive process, statistics and how your gut can fool you
· Don’t make mistake of trying to transfer all decisions to conscious thinking – this is wasteful, hard and rarely makes sense either
· Try to sharpen your awareness to heuristics you used to the point you consciously deciding over important matter
· From time to time think about thinking
- Przemek Kucia
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P.S. This post was inspired by Eric Tonningsen's http://tonningsen.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/try-it-you-might-embrace-it/
For further reading about two Systems I suggest to google Daniel Kahneman and Amon Tversky