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Deep Thoughts, No Fooling

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I have been on sabbatical over the last several months, spending a lot of time thinking about thinking. I'm so disappointed in our collective ability to think, that a new part of my life's work is to help us all think harder and better. I can get you to think harder and better, and as a bonus, I will shed new light on the battle between youth and experience.

It's not your fault that you don't think harder and better. You're not wired for it. Deep thinking requires effort, and no matter how hardworking you think you are, we don't like to expend the effort required to think hard. It's a subconscious thing.

Daniel Kahneman elaborates this beautifully in Thinking, Fast and Slow. We have two mechanisms for thinking. System One is our "automatic system." It is on all the time and it attends loosely to what is happening around us. It allows for our most effortless thinking, it can learn and improve over time, and it performs adequately in the face of routine problems. System Two is our "reflective system." This is where the deep thinking occurs. Use of System Two requires effort, is necessary for solving complex problems, and can sometimes be invoked to override the flawed thinking of System One.

The problem is we lean much too heavily on System One. No blame assigned for this. We are programmed, by virtue of evolution, in a number of ways that are important for our survival. Thinking harder than is necessary takes energy and is tiring. We survive better if we have energy when we need it and if we are less tired, more alert and aware.

I'm sure the more cynical among you think this is no big deal or you think you are invulnerable to shortcomings in your ability to think. I urge you to test this in yourself. It shouldn't take long for you to become easily convinced, both that it is a big deal and that you are susceptible.

Here is what convinced me. It's hard to count when you work out. Counting requires System Two. I do neck isometrics as a part of my workout. I place my right palm on my forehead and press my head forward into my palm, while pushing back with my hand, for a count of five. I then move my palm to the right side of my head and count to five... back of my head... left side of my head. I do all of this seven times. I have been doing it a couple of times a week for a lot of years. I always lose count. I only know if I have done too many when I wake up the next day with a sore neck.

Why is counting so hard? There is a lot going on in the gym, and in my head. There is a lot to which System One can attend, making it hard to invoke System Two at all. You want to be able to invoke System Two, I'm telling you, and more often than you do now. Blatant shortcomings from over-reliance on System One happen many times a day. Be advised!

I play the board game The Settlers of Catan with my kids. My son fancies himself quite the player and quite the game strategist. Don't get me wrong; he's a smart kid and a very good Settlers player. The game, however, relies heavily on dice rolls. My son is visibly affronted whenever I win a game of Settlers. If I win, he thinks it's a great cosmic accident. I'm not kidding.

He's young and full of vitality. I'm not. He's hip. I'm not. He knows the ways of the world. I do not... I guess. If he really invoked his deeper thinking, he might recognize that I'm no slouch, and even if I was, chance plays an important role in the game. Furthermore, I am competitive. Yes, even in family games. Ample evidence of this could be easily recalled, if only he would think hard enough. In fact, if he really thought about it, he wouldn't even bother to play the game with me; the task would be so daunting. I've got major chops. Think, kid, think.

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