The Two Systems

To understand and identify the moment our cognitive biases take place in real-time, we must firstly comprehend how our brain processes our choices and judgements. Thanks to the wonderful works of Danial Kahneman, we can now confidently discuss our cognitive processes through a useful construction that we can all make sense of.

We now know that we apprehend the world in two radically opposed ways, employing two fundamentally different modes of thought: “System 1” and “System 2”. It’s important to note, these systems we speak of are not systems in the standard sense of physical entities.

There is no single part of the brain that either of these systems could be located, although the amygdala may well be one of the dominant influences of system 1 thinking. The construction we’re using here to describe the mind, is an aid to allow us to discuss the intricate complexities of choice and judgement without misconception. We’re able to overcome vast cognitive limitations of complexity by forming useful little devices like: That building was the height of 10 double decker buses… and that is precisely what we’re doing here—utilising a language that accurately describes the brain’s method of operating in a way that we can understand.

System 1
The dominant, subconscious authority that processes our thoughts rapidly and automatically

System 1 contains your personal model of the world, that is continuously crosschecked to perceive external events around you as normal or surprising. This automated thinking process is heavily influenced by context and your previous experiences to aid in assimilating newly acquired stimuli into pre-existing knowledge structures. This whole process is truly spectacular when you think about it. It is fast; it’s intuitive, associative, metaphorical, automatic, impressionistic, and it can’t be switched off. Its operations involve no sense of intentional control, but it’s the “secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make”

System 1 is for the most part pretty good at what it does; it’s highly sensitive to subtle environmental cues, signs of danger, and so on. It kept our remote ancestors alive. It does, however, pay a high price for speed. It loves to simplify and make assumptions. It’s hopelessly bad at the kind of statistical thinking often required for good decisions, it jumps wildly to conclusions and it’s subject to a fantastic suite of irrational biases and interference effects

We’ll be exploring a heuristic process of acknowledging our cognitive blind spots, that will better enable us to overcome the shortfalls of lazy thinking when the stakes are high

System 2
Our logical thinking system

System 2 is our rational, conscious self that formulates our everyday plans, beliefs and actions through calculated methodical thinking.

System 2 is the logical system that we’re empowering when we’re developing our critical thinking skills We’re granting System 2 more permission to weigh in on matters that may have once been monopolised by automated, System 1 thinking in our everyday activities. A switching process that is introducing a change in our mindful authority.

System 2 processing is cognitively very demanding, and intrinsically more taxing than your default thinking, so If your body can avoid complex thinking, it will. The nervous system typically consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body, and heavy mental activity via System 2 thinking appears to be rather expensive in the currency of glucose. There will be many moments in our lives when our cognitive biases will be unavoidable, simply because System 2 lacks the clues to indicate when an error is taking place. Continuous vigilance over our automated thinking processes would be expensive in terms of energy and therefore be impractical. Thus, our best solution is a compromise—We will learn to recognise the situations that may be prone to mistakes and we will learn to ask the right questions. Answer the questions below then click on the image to reveal the answer

Which line is longer?
Get the answer here

The images above demonstrate this process in action. If we’re to take a quick look at these shapes, it seems quite obvious that the left line is longer than the right line. This would be incorrect. The lines are the same length. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve witnessed this illusion, or verified the length of the lines through reasoned analysis – your brain will continue to see the left line as the longest. If we are to desire greater accuracy in our judgements, we should all be aware of the hard-wired mental shortcuts in play and what limitations they may bring. Our brain filters out much of the visual information before it is processed and therefore has to guess what is seen based on past experiences leading to errors of perspective and visual illusions

Now lets look at at the answer to a different type of problem

How much does the ball cost?
Get the answer here

A bat and a ball cost £1.10 in total. The bat costs £1 more than the ball.How much does the ball cost?
For most people, their impulsive thinking would likely conclude that the ball costs 10 pence. This would be incorrect. The ball would in fact, cost 5 pence. An annoying eye-opener for many of you, this is a simple maths questions – it is easy isn’t it ? – no need to engage system two thinking. Until now! At this moment, your system 2 is in full flow and the energy used is taking precedence over other cognitive tasks.
Check out the following explanation if you’re still struggling to work it out: Incorrect answer
If you say the ball = 0.10, the bat must cost £1.10 to be £1 more. Total = £1.20(correct) Ball = 0.05, the bat must cost £1.05 to be £1 more. Total = £1.10 This is a typical example of System 2 bailing out your automated, impulsive System 1 when it takes a short cut . But let’s not forget, if it wasn’t for this the answer and/or System 2 pointing out the incorrect answer You may have been satisfied with your answer. And this is the problem. We all regularly make impulsive choices in our local environments that are not factually accurate. We may remain unaware of our errors due to the absence of clues that would imply we’re missing the mark.