Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What do you think?

by Steve Brock on November 9, 2011

We may not understand all the complexities of the brain, but we can think about how we think...and improve our trips

Last week I read a Seattle Times column by Jerry Large entitled “How We Truly Think.” You can read the whole column here, but I’ll try to summarize.

In it, he writes about Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that just came out. As the title suggests, it is all about how we think.

Kahneman illustrates our thinking process with two characters, Process 1 (intuition) and Process 2 (rational thinking).  The first controls us more than we realize.

Examples: When we see a picture of a woman’s face, we can instantly recognize the expression of anger. That is Process 1. Solving 17 X 24 is Process 2 which is much slower.

Some things we just know. Others we have to figure out. We rely on the former but we’re often wrong and we’re actually too lazy to take the time to think it through to check ourselves.

We like to think we’re examining and checking when we jump to conclusions, but we don’t. We act without reflection. “Autopilot works well when everything is stable.” “But when there are lots of factors, or instability, even experts don’t do so well – predicting stock market movements for instance.”

The solution is this: “Double-check conclusions and answers that seem easy and obvious. Doubt certainty.”

Here’s where meaningful travel fits in. We do one of the following (or possibly a combination of all):

  • On a trip, especially to someplace very foreign and uncomfortable, we recognize there is little certainty. Thus, we pay better attention and process things more even as we experience them. We realize we can’t rely on our intuition because the rules are different here. We shut off auto-pilot due to the tricky weather conditions.
  • Conversely, in other locales, we believe that the place is very much like home so we rely on intuition but only realize later (if at all) that subtle differences exist and we’ve missed them and possibly mis-stepped as a result. We fly by auto-pilot when we should be on manual control.
  • We use our rational thinking on the trip due to the novelty of it all, but then we immediately switch back to auto-pilot when we get home. Thus, we jump to conclusions about what we thought we learned, but because we didn’t reflect and process the experience, we actually jump to the wrong conclusions and miss much of what the experience could have revealed.

The latter is our most common and in many ways, worst mistake. When we don’t reflect on our trip experiences, we miss out on the meaningful part of them because we don’t take the time to translate the experience into our own daily context. It is in that translation that we find the most meaning or rather, where we assign meaning to what otherwise was just novelty or a fun encounter.

I am as guilty as anyone of priding myself on my instincts, especially when I travel. But Kahneman’s research and book remind all of us of this: When we travel (and even at home) we need to slow down and reflect more and not always assume our intuition is correct.

Yeah. I knew that.

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