Automatic And Controlled
System one thinking is automatic, fast, effortless, often unconscious. System two
thinking is controlled, slow, effortful and usually conscious. Daniel Kahneman
System two thinking is what we think we are. System one thinking is what we mostly are. We usually think we make our decisions using our rational, controlled, intentional minds. But we are unaware of the role of the “other mind”. Our belief that we are controlling our minds is often wrong.
A useful metaphor for understanding our two minds comes from Jonathan Haidt: I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him. Haidt says the rider is conscious controlled thought, the elephant is everything else.
The Buddha compared the mind to a wild elephant, hard to control. Here is yet another elephant metaphor. Humankind traveling through life is like the fly riding on the back of an elephant who thinks it is steering. The elephant doesn’t mind, and it makes the ride more enjoyable. (Unknown)
I believe the elephant metaphors are useful in thinking about the two systems of the mind. Think of the elephant as system one thinking, your automatic, intuitive, unconscious use of emotion in decision making. Think of you, the rider, as system two, your controlled rational, conscious use of reason in decision making.
The problem of personally dealing with this is that sometimes system one (the elephant) is the best strategy. And we know that very few decisions are totally rational decisions. In fact, they seldom can be. Once again, the best way of dealing with this is self-awareness. Being aware that you have two systems in your mind competing with each other is the necessary first step.
This blog will be a way of introducing more discussion on how our minds are competing in the use of reason and emotion and the involvement of context. This makes for an interesting and complicated process of decision making.