Monday, July 31, 2023

Thinking Fast and Slow

 Thinking Fast and Slow

Report by Jared Keane

Pseudoscience and the Paranormal

Overview -

“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman invites the reader to question the ways of thinking and mentions two types of thought. System 1 operates by thinking quickly and jumping to conclusions, System 2 operates by thinking slowly and carefully considering facts and evidence. The book mentions that System 1 can be useful in dangerous, fight or flight responses and can help us gather information quickly, just not as accurately or reliably as system 2. In fact, in order for the slow, accurate thinking in System 2 to work, information is fed through System 1 first (that’s why the systems are called 1 and 2). Furthermore, System 1 is unconscious. That’s where plenty of cognitive biases and mental processing flaws can come into the picture. 

Favorite Part -

Roy Baumeister’s social experiments. He concluded that mental activity is in some ways related to physical activity. In addition, when the body is starved of glucose (sugar) during exercise, the muscles will become exhausted much quicker; could the same be true for mental exercises as well? Baumeister’s “Ego Depletion” refers to a theory that emotional and mental effort requires a replenishment of energy just like physical effort does. He notes that ego-depleted people succumb more quickly to the urge to quit. Basically, people who haven't eaten recently will give up their effort quicker than those who have maintained energy; the idea that mental energy is more than just a metaphor. Interestingly, a study was done on eight parole judges in Israel. While reviewing applications for parole, on average, 35% of applicants were accepted. Then, after the judges had a lunch break, 65% of applicants were accepted. During the next two hours, the approval rate started steadily dropping. The conclusion was that tired and fatigued individuals tend to fall back on an easier default position. It is definitely a macabre thought to imagine those whose decisions we rely on can be so easily influenced.

Connection to Class -

The book mentions many topics discussed in class. Cognitive Heuristics, which involves unconscious and quick thinking based on guidelines and ‘rules of thumb’ are frequently brought up. Confirmation bias is also a common point the book makes. Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to have a favor for things that already support their beliefs. This can lead to people intentionally not searching out information that places doubts on their beliefs. Anchoring, which is the effect of people getting influenced by large or excessive numbers is mentioned in a brief section. Loss aversion, which is the tendency for people to take action simply to avoid loss, rather than seek gains is mentioned and related to the emotional side of system 1. Finally, The Halo Effect, which is if a person has one positive attribute about them, there is a tendency to overall view that person as positive. Sunk Cost, which was also talked about in the Midterm, is the tendency that most people will avoid to continue to take risks if they already experienced losses. 

Creative Section -

For this section, I have selected two videos; the first is about cognitive biases. In summary, a series of participants are given the numbers 2, 4, 8. The participants have to guess the rule it follows. Most say it’s multiplying by 2, but it’s not. However, 20, 40, 80 follows the rule. If not multiplying by 2, then what is it? It’s only when participants try to guess something that breaks the rule that they get it right. One group guessed 10, 9, 8. They found out it doesn’t follow the rule. Only then, could they guess the rule is numbers in ascending order.  The point of the experiment is people always try to prove what they already believe, and very few try to disprove what they believe. The scientific method was founded on if you intentionally try to disprove something and you can’t then you might be onto something. So many times throughout this class and in this book, we learn that people have a confirmation bias and almost always attempt to confirm what they already know instead of challenging it.

The second example is more specifically related to System 1 and System 2. He notes that the slow paced thinking of System 2 is often unaware of what the fast paced System 1 is doing. Therefore, if system one quickly deduces information rapidly, system 2 “could” catch the mistake, but is often unaware one was made at all. It’s like reading a sentence. I'm typing this very sentence pretty quickly, but it is only when I go back and reread it, that I’ll ever hope to notice a mistake. One of the examples used is how within System 2, working memory is very bad at remembering short term information. The number 3202 is difficult to recall just five minutes from now, but if you reverse it, it’s just the present year - 2023. It provides context. The main point is the relationship between System 1 and System 2. Not just how these systems interpret memory, but how the unreliability of system 1 can often lead to false information like biased assumptions. 

Both of these videos are around 10 minutes and I highly recommend checking them out, they are highly informative.

Video 1 -

Video 2 -

Extension -

Since the book frequently lists the disadvantages of quick thinking and suggests that both systems should work together to be efficient and accurate, I propose the actual advantages of System 1. System 1 throughout the book is criticized for its inaccuracy, while true, it can find its niche. One of the largest roles that system one has is in common sense. While common sense is not naturally occurring, it can be trained to play a role in the subconscious mind. The decision not to turn down a dark alley at 2:00am is system 1, it’s fast and impulsive, but it is also the best possible decision to make at that moment. System 2, as it relates to the paranormal, might be super useful. After all, if someone tells you that the Earth looks flat and therefore must be flat, you don’t want to immediately and unquestionably rely on that. However, if someone tells you that it’s a bad idea to jump into a tank filled with sharks, it is fairly reliable to quickly and effortlessly rely on your common sense without a second thought.

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