“…ours is a brain that is programmed for a combination of speed and certainty, not accuracy. Acting decisively in the face of a speeding truck can save your life, while trying to determine truth can leave you a splatter on the road.”Patrick King, The Art of Clear Thinking
Do you feel the truth in this? We are so easily a splatter on the road if we let our thinking brains slow us down.
So we don’t. We prefer speed for our own safety.
The instant we realise, getting out of the way of the pouncing lion is imperative. Instinct triggers the impulse to leap (speed) as a proven option for giving us a chance to escape (certainty). Given enough time to think about the lion, our brains would come up with any number of smart options to manage predator exposure in the first place, such as deciding who should be the lookout with sharp eyes willing to stay awake (accuracy).
Accuracy takes way too much time and effort so in the human brain opts for speed and certainty.
Daniel Kahneman talks about this as thinking fast and slow.
Accuracy that requires us to weigh up options, think through options and make evidence-based decisions just takes too long and too much effort on our part for the majority of everyday decisions. If we did it all the time we would grind to a halt from inertia. So the fast brain takes over. This gives us quick options and makes us intellectually as well as physically nimble.
In human evolution, this was essential and perhaps one of the things that made us so successful. We are fast thinkers. Our speed and certainty of thought give us a competitive advantage over most creatures, other tribes, and even human rivals in our own team.
Once we escaped the lion and were relatively safe around the campfire, so then we were able to ponder, remember and weigh up our experiences and, through language, share our ideas with others. This time to ponder set us up for big innovations and future successes that made evolutionary sense of having both thinking mechanisms.
It also gave us connections with each other. Slow thinking helps deepen the connections that allow us to build trust and organise the lookout roster.
All good so far.
Patrick King goes on to say…
“In the absence of threats to your life, truth should always be the end goal, and opinions should be formed only after making an honest effort to pursue it.”Patrick King
This is a laudable suggestion. We would all do well to heed it for even if we are just aware that we have two modes of thinking that is a great start. And even if the longer one takes effort, the accuracy if offers should be attractive enough for us to use it more often. No matter how fast you think there are times when you will appreciate the heads up from the lookout.
So what happened to all that debate in the pub? Wither the discourse and thought about issues of the day and the future? Replaced it seems by cute cat pictures and a swipe right.
In our modern jungles, the benefits of the slower, more considered mode of thinking seem forgotten. Immediacy has again taken over from thought.
Ironically, there are a thousand discussions on this issue of how we became thoughtless and the conclusion appears to be that speed and certainty override accuracy because most matters no longer require serious thought. In the west at least, immediate needs are easily met with fast decisions — pizza or Thai? — the everydayness of everything. It is easy to get by without a nightwatchman.
When there are more serious matters, such as who should get my vote, the choices are lamentable with little payoff from seeking accuracy.
If we combine lack of need with a limited payoff then the call to ‘honest effort’ will ring hollow. Why put in the effort for no reward?
If you have read any posts on this blog or anything by dozens of more erudite thinkers then you know this is not even a question. There are 7.7 billion reasons to make the effort and you are one of them.
Everyone has a duty to buck up their ideas, turn their thinking brains on every day, build strong connections, and find some solutions to the multitude of challenges presented by so many souls.
Help a brother by thinking about accuracy.