Thinking, Fast and Slow. 6. Norms, Surprises, and causes

Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar

This chapter is devoted to convey a single but powerful idea: Our system 1 is constantly monitoring our environment checking that everything falls into an expected order of things. When something happens that doesn’t fully fit into it, system 1 generates a surprise feeling and immediately begins to find a casual explanation for that fact.

We humans are kind of machines of finding causal explanations of everything that happens around us. There are two kinds of set of rules that are applied to finding causalities. One of them applies to the way physical objects interact among them. This rules include movement, impact, velocity, pushing, being pushed, falling, etc… There is another set of rules that is used to understand the interactions between human beings. Here we use categories completely different: help, explain, pretend, love, betrayal, hope, etc…

This idea, that we are machines desperately looking for a story is very Talebian and, in fact Kahneman uses an example from Taleb in the chapter. As Talebian is also the idea that this human tendency is a source of cognitive bias in the sense that system 1 generates lots of spurious ideas that, if not checked thoroughly by system 2 (and remember that system 2 is too lazy and too busy for thoroughness), will be a cause of erroneous judgment.

Let’s see how this concept develops in future chapters.

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3 thoughts on “Thinking, Fast and Slow. 6. Norms, Surprises, and causes

  1. And what about the idea of separating physical and intenional causalityas the source of religions? I went to Bloom’s original paper and found it quite illuminating and in line with recent research in species such as capuchin monkys or crows… This book is full of such amazing side topics.

    • Oh yes! That is true. That’s really great. It is something I had already encountered before and I have it somewhat integrated into my mind so I didn’t gave to it now the amount of consideration that it really deserves.

      To call it “source of religions” is, however, to go too far away. Religions are a bunch of different traits with multiple effects in the peoples and societies where they are present. We don’t have evidence enough to tell which of those traits have been driving forces in the development of religions and which ones have been added afterwards.

      Let’s call it better “the origin of the widespread belief in the immortality of souls”.

  2. The fascinating bit is precisely that the separation of these two aspects of reasoning “causal or ecological” vs. “intentional” can help understanding a number of things: the immortality of souls and religions are two interesting ones (he uses both concepts in the book) and perhaps the most relevant. My personal “aha! moment” took place when I thought about the many friends who are rational scientists that know the value of evidence in, say, physics or chemistry, but simultaneously believe in some form of creator or another. Actually, many of them hold the idea that life, and particularly ethics, cannot be explained by evolution… Probably because the appearance of design triggers an intentional interpretation rather than a narrative in terms of blind and random causation..

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