Monday, January 23, 2012


The week has indeed begun on a rough note, and looks to continue that way.  Soooooo I bring you a saved post from a few weeks ago.  Hope you're having a good one.

For Xmas, my Dad got a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  I nabbed it and read the first 6 chapters, but it was a bit of a slog with everything that was going on, and I will have to have another go at it later.  He knows how to flog a dead horse.

Kahneman's basic premise in the book is that we have two basic ways of thinking, the first is a fairly automatic rapid response thought process, what you engage if you look at a piece of art and decide if you like it or not; what you engage when you answer 2+2=4

The second type of thinking actually forces us to engage consciously, for instance when you have to solve 27 x 32 = ???  for example, or when you are analyzing a book.  When you engage with a piece of work fully.

As a teacher, one of the hardest things to do is to get students into system 2.  Work sheets appear to do this.  The students are silent and processing work.  The problem is that this is only one type of system 2 work.  If you think about it, we all know that this is not the highest type of system 2 thought.  Sure, we've all filled out worksheets that test whether we have read the text, that ask stupid questions that require you to look back and reread.  You need some quiet and concentration for this, but it is not truly engaging.  Higher system 2 thought, which I am not sure that Kahneman approaches or differentiates, is that level of concentration that makes time disappear.  When you are engaged in a piece of work and erupt again unaware that hours have passed.  This is difficult to achieve in a class, to set up an atmosphere that allows the students to truly engage 'system 2'.

In the first chapters I read, Kahneman did not distinguish between these different types of system 2 thought, mental business and mental engagement.  When I get my hands on a copy, I am hoping to find that he does.

My second hope is that he will clarify that it is not always such a clear separation.  We can all feel the mental difference as we gear up to solve 27 x 32, as opposed to the snap ease of 2+2.  There is however a sliding scale of engagement.  He uses the example that chess masters will, with System 1, the 2+2 system, play the first several moves of a game in a way that would require the rest of us to fully engage in system 2 if we could even do that.  A reasonable example, but not a wildly accessible one.  Driving a car comes to mind, when you first get behind the wheel, for most of us I would think, it is a full on System 2 highly concentrated, possibly white knuckled (for the passenger as well) engagement.  As your skills improve, more and more of the tasks get handed over to system 1, you no longer have to think about where the brake pedal is, or how to use a steering wheel.  Gradually a sense of time opening up appears as more of the requirements can be completed in an rapid automatic way by system 1.  Eventually, driving becomes so automatic that we barely think about it at all - with System 2 - and therein lies danger, particularly for newer drivers who have shifted the skill to System 1, but do not have a depth of experience there to provide good decision making.

It becomes clearer how much this has happened when you go to drive in another country where the street signs are unfamiliar and the road layout and driving styles are not your own, suddenly you need to engage system 2 to manage what is normally an auto-pilot activity.

Another example is learning a foreign language.  Trying to speak and understand it is, at first, a full on System 2 process, laborious, slow and engaging. As time passes, things speed up, more and more structures and phrases become automatic and things shift down to system 1.  But even when a certain degree of fluency is acheived, like my Catalan at this point, it still requires a higher engagement of system 2.  Even listening to a simple text requires a higher level of engagement than listening to a language either acquired in childhood, or one fully acquired.  But full engagement?  No.  More like system 2 focussing a bit.

These are two examples of thought processes that blur the lines between Kahneman's clear cut system 1 and 2.  I am itching to get my hands on the book and look at whether he explores these regions or not, because I think that these aspects provide more depth and interest than a simple two system concept and also more closely mirror the reality of our thought processes.

Looking forward to reading it.

Hoping he goes rich with this rather than plays it easy.


The Bodhi Chicklet said...

I can really appreciate these thoughts, right now I am struggling with Riley's teacher to understand that kids don't automatically come programmed for System 2 and certainly aren't proficient at it in grade 3. That it takes a really good teacher to get them anywhere near System 2, to get them engaged in subjects that are difficult or boring. I would love to send her your words on this but I believe she already knows everything.

oreneta said...

OHLORD what a nightmare.

i am so sorry....I cannot even begin to think what to say that could possibly help. NOBODY engages with something they find boring or useless in a full and eager way unless they are externally in it feeds a passion otherwise.

Poor Riley.