Quora answer: Thinking: Why are we so quick to judge and choose sides?

Feb 18 2014

Read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

We in general are given to Fast Thinking, it comes natural and is spontaneous and instantaneous, but unfortunately it is full of biases, unfounded assumptions, fabricated narratives that are implausible on reflection and in general it allows us to function in the world in real time but does not stand up to scrutiny. Hegel calls it sense certainty.

On the other hand there is self-consciousness, reflection, thoughtfulness, and general the working things out for ourselves that takes time and effort and is challenging. There is no guarantee of success even if we think slowly about things before acting or deciding. So for the most part we just do not do it.

So we are ruled by the seemingly rational BLINK economy of rash decisions, which for the most part turn out fairly well, but when it is wrong it is really wrong, and at times we pay a heavy price for not thinking before we leap.

For instance, who to marry. Do we recognize who we should marry or are we carried away by our illusions. There is no good answer to many questions. There are wicked problems whose answers are all bad.

To guide us Plato set up the divided line. He said there were two parts to that line one is ratio and the other doxa. Doxa is appearance and opinion. It is the largest part of the line. Ratio is the application of reason and the proper use of logos which is based on logic. Doxa can be grounded and ungrounded. Ratio can be representable or non-representable.

For each part of the divided line and its limits Aristotle said there were kinds of knowledge we should seek to acquire. They are nous, sophia, episteme, techne, phronesis, metis.


Basically Fast Thinking is involved in the production of Doxa and Slow Thinking is engaged in the Ratio.

Fast Thinking is easy and right much of the time but when it is wrong it is really wrong.

Slow Thinking is hard, and does not add much to what Fast Thinking surmises quickly, and what it produces seems impractical, or if nothing else useless rumination. But when it spots a major error in Fast Thinking then it is very worthwhile because it keeps us from paying dearly for incredible blunders that fast thinking would take us into if it were not checked. Like the financial crisis for instance, or that spur of the moment unaffordable purchase that will bankrupt you, for instance a sub-prime mortgage on an incredible house you know you is way beyond your means.

Why are we so quick to judge and choose sides? Because we are engaged most of the time in Fast Thinking that is full of biases and unchecked assumptions and which tells us stories that are for the most part fantastic fabrications.

And why don’t we check first, visiting fact check dot org in our brain, because it is too hard and takes too much effort and we are mostly right relying on fast thinking. But when we are wrong we are really wrong. For instance Heidegger the slowest thinker in history probably joined the Nazi Party, because he was caught up in the rhetoric of the Brown Shirts ideal of continual revolution within the Nazi Party. But then the Brown Shirts were massacred by the Gestapo, because they were seen as a threat to the personality cult of Hitler, who once in power wanted to jettison any thought of continual revolution that might be a threat to his leadership. Heidegger never recanted his Nazi membership. But he has paid a heavy price in his legacy for this flirtation with power. He was banned from speaking in public after World War II. Even Jaspers spoke against his being able to speak in public because of his popularity with students. So even the slowest thinkers can get caught up in things that can turn out badly for them in the long run.

The other answer which is actually deeper is that the Western Worldview at its core produces nihilistic opposites, and we get caught up in them easily, only later if at all realizing that these opposites are really the same. So it is not just that we make quick decisions but our worldview is continually presenting us with false decisions to take up, like the difference between Nazism and Communism as extreme ideologies whose warfare shaped the twentieth century. Or closer to home Democrats and Republicans. Even though it appears that the Republicans have sold their souls to the Corporations and have forgotten about people that are human beings beyond the moniker of the “American People” whom they exploit to justify buying what any given lobbyist has to sell. Democrats are no better, they just look better at the moment because the Republicans are so extreme. But it is really the incumbents that rule, of whatever party. Differences based on party lines are negligible in determining what actually happens in Congress. It is just that the congressmen and women use to talk to each other and cooperate on things sometimes in the past. Now the whole game is resistance on even the smallest point. Even if it was your idea in the first place like the Healthcare program. So the extremity of the nihilistic opposites only gets deeper as we go on, and the problem with that is that eventually it tips over into some form of populist totalitarianism. That is the way all other democracies have gone in history and we have done well to avoid the inevitable for so long in this country. But eventually the extremity of the nihilism will win out, and due to Fast Thinking we will jump right in thinking it is the best option which will solve all our problems as a nation to get someone in there who will do all the extreme things we want to happen. But living with the legacy of being caught up in some populist movement that ends up as a totalitarianism and recovering from the loss of democracy will be hard when it comes.

If we had a bit more slow thinking we would realize that compromise to solve our problems is best, but fast thinking wants quick answers and falls for the nihilistic choices we are presented with almost every time. God help us.

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