How we come to believe what we think we know is a key question for those who would guide the future of energy, the climate, and the many other challenges that now face humanity.
It turns out that how we think isn’t quite as rational as we might believe.
Behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman has an excellent lecture on this subject, which was highlighted last week on Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth blog. Drawing on the body of scientific research on how we think, Kahneman breaks down our thinking processes into two systems.
What he calls System 1 is how most of us operate most of the time. It’s automatic, and draws effortlessly on associative memory. It’s what your mind does when you hear “two plus two.” It’s intuitive, instinctive, and immediate, and it biases what you perceive toward what you already think you know in order to produce stories that “make sense.” We trust System 1 because it’s fast and efficient and mostly correct. With System 1, the conclusions come first, and then the arguments.
The other way of thinking he calls System 2. It’s what your brain does when you hear “17 times 24.” It’s characterized by deliberate, analytical work. It’s what controls your behavior when you have to make a left turn into traffic, or read a map, or fill out an income tax form. It’s a logical, sequential way of thinking, which is related to control, attention, and rule-governed behavior.