Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar
We are presented here with the availability heuristic. This is a particular case of the substitution trick that our system 1 does and that we have already seen several times previously through the book. When trying to assess the relevance or frequency of a certain category, what we do is simply try to recover instances from our memory of that category and consider that the easiness of retrieval corresponds the frequency of that category.
Such a procedure, as all substitutions, is prone to biases because retrieval easiness may not equal objective frequency in the world for that category for a lot of reasons. The availability heuristic has been studied in depth and presents some curious characteristics. First, it is not necessary to retrieve any instance from our minds. System 1, before any retrieval, generates and intuitive guess of how easy the retrieving process may be and constructs the substitution judgement upon that guess.
It seams that, in the process of retrieving, it is much more important the easiness of retrieving than the number of instances retrieved. This creates the paradox than subjects of an experiment ask to generate 12 instances of that category label it less frequent than those who are asked to generate only 6. The point is that the 6 additional instances are much more difficult to retrieve. This difficulty surprises our system 1 (who is not a genius in making predictions) and influences the final assessment. And the interesting twist of it all is that this effect is erased if subjects are told that the background music that they are hearing impairs their ability to concentrate. Then the number of instances retrieved happens to be decisive because retrieving difficulty is explained by other reasons. This is another example of system 2 resetting system 1 expectations.
And this is our only hope. To learn how, even imperfectly, use our system 2 to tray to control the actions of system 1, because for most daily tasks, system 2 cannot simple work.
It is this, or we just stop worrying about reality altogether Gorgias style:
Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.
Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.