Thinking Hiccups

The Nobel Prize Winner and American professor, Daniel Kahneman, believes that people are “irrational animals” who are susceptible to making mistakes and incorrect judgments. He thinks people are innately illogical and prone to thinking errors when they evaluate situations in largely predictable patterns. Kahneman believes the human brain is hardwired to think in irrational ways because throughout history our very survival depended on it, so it became our instinct and part of our nature.[v] Think about how much time our ancestors had to evaluate their best escape options when a hungry predator was chasing them. They didn’t analyze anything, they just ran as fast as they could and climbed the first tree they found. They didn’t have time to stop, look around, and find the tallest tree or the one with the most branches that made climbing easy. If they were mentally present enough, they assessed if the predator could climb the tree or not, and chose other escape options. Kahneman identifies human thinking as being either logical or instinctual. He states it is during times of instinctual thinking when we make most of our mistakes in judgment. Our brains don’t like it when we are faced with gaps in information and it is eager to close those gaps. We are content to jump at the first choice or solution that comes along without taking the time to fully assess the consequences that may come along with it. We have access to more information than at any other point in human history, but it can be too much for our brains to take in and properly sort through. Not to mention that being exposed to information all day long does no good to our judgment when we cannot tell who is reporting fact and who is reporting fiction. Our brains search for patterns and connections to the beliefs we already have and information we already know. There are times when this can prove helpful, but there are also times when this instinctual type of thinking can lead us astray by encouraging us to jump to conclusions without taking the time to gather all of the facts available to us. The brain consumes more energy than any other human organ – nearly twenty percent of our total energy haul even though the brain generally accounts for only two percent of our total body mass.[vi] We naturally try to conserve energy when we can, so you can imagine why the brain would instinctively try to avoid going into deep thought as much as possible. This is why we rely so much on old familiar patterns when it comes to making judgments and decisions. We try to reach conclusions quickly. When we solve problems too fast, we often end up coming to the wrong conclusion or settling for the easy fix instead of the best outcome. These hasty solutions can even bring with them unintended negative consequences that we didn’t account for. Let’s try a math problem to help illustrate this theory. Together a bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Take a minute to consider your answer. If you are like most people, you probably think the ball costs 10 cents. If that were true, the bat would cost $1.10 because the problem stated that the bat cost $1.00 more than the ball. This would mean that the total cost of the bat and ball would be $1.20. The correct answer is that the ball costs 5 cents and the bat costs $1.05, adding up to a total of $1.10. The math is not terribly difficult so why do the majority of us get the answer wrong? In order to quickly solve the problem, the brain often tries to replace a harder problem with an easier one. The math problem stated that the bat cost $1.00 more than the ball, but in order to make things simple, the brain may have mistakenly substituted that information with the idea that the bat cost $1.00, which leads to a quick, but incorrect, judgment that the ball cost 10 cents. This is a prime example of how our instinct to find a quick and easy answer can lead us astray.

Rutherford, Albert. Elements of Critical Thinking: A Fundamental Guide to Effective Decision Making, Deep Analysis, Intelligent Reasoning, and Independent Thinking (The critical thinker Book 1) . ARB Publications. Kindle Edition.