Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow by Kahneman – a book I've not yet finished because of other readings (particularly Gurcharan's next book – of which I'm browsing though a brilliantly written draft, to provide Gurcharan with some comments in the next week) – will do one thing at least: it will popularise System 1 System 2 concepts on a scale no other book could have done.
Just like Jim Collins popularised the concept of five levels of leadership (I'm not sure if it was his original idea), Kahneman has massively popularised the System 1 System 2 concept. His book is a milestone in man's intellectual history, and will become a classic for all times (or at least for the next 20 years).
I have started using this System 1, 2 concept extensively in my daily thought processes, and, taken together with other ideas related to the brain functioning from a number of recent excellent books on the subject, I'm now able to keep on eye on my mental energy levels. I know that when I'm mentally exhausted I'll likely take mental shortcuts.
Basically, System 2 thinking is critical thinking (at an elementary level). It is the questioning system of our brain. But using this system requires huge oxygen and glucose flow to the brain – somewhat like pumping extra petrol into the car engine by hitting the accelerator.
Without extra oxygen and energy flow, and extra effort, we can't think critically.
(Btw, like most mothers in India, my mother always gave me a spoon of sugar to eat before exams. I have always liked sugar, so that was good. But in addition, this cultural idea now has strong scientific backing. The extra sugar provided extra energy to the brain for the two to three hours of concentrated work needed in exams – which is mentally draining and exhausting).
System 2 also stops functioning when too many demands are made on it during the day, or too much stress induced by our daily work.
That means those who are poor, or live stressful lives with a series of frustrations during the day, will generally fail to use System 2 thinking or to use it ineffectively.
System 1 thinking, on the other hand, is intuitive. It jumps to conclusions (false conclusions on some occasions), and has been found to be prevalent in ALL humans. It is the LAZY system of our brain. Thus, even the best statisticians make simple errors in assessing data when they are not sufficiently alert.
Alertness, concentration, energy, effort: these are the hallmarks of critical thinking.
Now here's some very interesting research – from a recent post on Richard Dawkins's blog:
In 2011 Amitai Shenhav, David Rand and Joshua Greene of Harvard University published a paper showing that people who have a tendency to rely on their intuition are more likely to believe in God. They also showed that encouraging people to think intuitively increased people’s belief in God. Building on these findings, in a recent paper published in Science, Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia found that encouraging people to think analytically reduced their tendency to believe in God. Together these findings suggest that belief may at least partly stem from our thinking styles.
What does this mean? – for India?
Well, we know that India is particularly religious. It is also particularly poor. And its lifestyle is particularly stressful (which also partly explains the massive death rates in India from heart disease). It all adds up. India uses very little System 2 thinking (i.e. real thinking).
India therefore finds it easy to believe in ANY tom dick harry "leader" who offers SIMPLISTIC thinking.
Thus, if I were to say (like Anna Hazare) that Jan Lokpal will cure India's problems, I'll become very popular at once. People love simplistic (and wrong) thinking.
Or if I were to make some utterly useless noise (like Kalam) such as "people should be good", and that India's problems will be solved by "good people", then I'll become very popular.
But I say some pretty non-intuitive things. I say that India needs to be free. Then, through a series of logical steps I show why this is good for India both in the innate and practical sense.
In doing so I make use of simple data. I make use of simple allegories. But I'm using ONLY System 2 thinking, not System 1. I'm challenging our "educated" people to think – something everyone hates (since thinking takes hard work and strenuous mental effort: in fact I believe that "educated" people are often more misguided than "uneducated" since they tend to blindly accept what they have read, whether during their own education or elsewhere. They are often LESS critical than the uneducated).
Anyway, the excessively religious Indian brain is either lazy or exhausted. Therefore my simple message (that does require some effort to understand) doesn't ring a bell.
For my message of liberty to penetrate the mental haze and confusion of the Indian mind will require Indians to ACTIVELY question their assumptions (e.g. the common assumption that "good people" can solve India's problems).
Given the confrontational/ thinking/ non-intuitive nature of my message, I note that I'm far less "popular" than I could have been by chanting MINDLESS "mantras".
Given this, should I change my approach and join the lazy thinking of Indians?
No. I don't think so. It is better that I keep trying to explain to Indians why they should start thinking critically and start their journey of questioning assumptions. And then they will find the liberty is indeed the solution to their problems.
Once again, a reference to my book below, for those daring enough to challenge their lazy brain.
If you found this post useful, then consider subscribing to my blog by email: