Are
we truly in two minds?

With the aid of Daniel Kahneman, Horizon, the chief science TV programme
on the UK media, a team of psychologists and programme makers set out to tell members
of the public how they really make their personal decisions, or they did 24
February 2014 on BBC2 at 9pm. The title was “How You Really Make Decisions”.

We are told in the programme that we all make
thousands of decisions every day, big ones or small ones, but they all involve
a clash between logic and intuition. This clash, or conflict, involves, or
affects, every aspect of our lives, we are told by this team. It affects our
decisions as to what we eat as well as what we believe, but they say it chiefly
affects how we spend our money.

The team go on to say that it turns out that our
intuition dominates the normal wakeful mind but they say that most people do
not seem to realise that. The Horizon
team say that intuition is like a stranger, or alien, that takes over our mind.
They say that we identify with deliberation, or slow thinking, but that alien
fast thinking, so fast, that we often do not even notice it, makes most of the
decisions.

But who does not notice tacit thought? Who
identifies with only slow deliberation? This might be the case with the team,
though I doubt it, but it is not likely that many will agree or feel that fast
thought is alien. The team seem to want to replace the old idea of the
Unconscious mind that works against us as an alien with mere tacit thought as
alien. At least tacit thought exists. But it is hardly alien in any way
whatsoever.

As the team report a few times in the programme,
people do not like deliberation, so why suppose they identify with that rather
than their normal tacit selves. Why assume that, beyond the extra cost of slow
careful thinking, there is any strangeness or alien element at all in fast
thinking? Journalists or academics may feel more at home with language but does
the average person? Whilst it seems silly to say that slow thinking is alien,
it seems yet sillier to say that fast thinking is strange.

The team says that we all see rapid tacit thought as
though it was the thought of a stranger, as if it was another alien mind. I
would not say they get it exactly wrong there, as deliberation is hardly alien
to normal thought. What the team says looks like sheer hyperbole but, if
anything, most of us are more at home when we are not deliberating. We seem to
naturally to think tacitly. With deliberation we are often not relaxed. If we
are tense then we usually do not feel at home and we are sometimes tense when
we deliberate. But all that is contrary to what the team says.

Kahneman himself does not often use the word
intuition in the programme, though he does endorse it by use a few times. His
main distinction is between what he calls fast thinking and slow thinking
instead. By fast thinking he seems to refer to what I would call tacit
thinking. As it happens, Thomas Hobbes calls intuition fast thinking in Leviathan (1651). Hobbes does not see it
as one whit illogical, nor does Kahneman in the programme, but he may well do
in his books, but, unlike Hobbes, Kahneman does think it is radically different
but it is the members of the team that say it is like a stranger. Anyway,
intuition can only result in an assumption and, as the law of logic is that we
can assume whatever we like, there is not much scope for irrationality from
mere intuition. But Kahneman seems to erroneously think there is.

The team say that we like to think we are rational,
but that, also, is a delusion. Current common sense rather likes the idea that
we are irrational at times, that maybe we are usually so. Most people seem to
feel that love is irrational and they seem be feel at home with the idea that they
are often irrational. People that I meet tell me that they can relax with that
idea.

We think mainly with intuition, the team says, but
they feel that clearly contrasts with logic. We are especially prone to error
whenever we go near money. This seems to be their main thesis, that money
distorts our thinking. The team say they get this thesis from Kahneman, a top
psychologist for forty years; who gets his insights from puzzles.

Kahneman feels that New York cab drivers are rather
thoughtless, as they seem to him to show no foresight. They take things on a
daily basis and clock off when they earn what they consider to be a full day’s
pay but Kahneman notes that when it is raining there is usually more need for
cabs, so they go home early as they earn enough sooner on wet days, whilst in
the fine days they need to work way longer to get the same day’s pay. Kahneman
feels they could work all day whilst it is raining and he supposes that they
could then even take the whole day off on the fine days. They might then enjoy
the sun as well as working less hours overall.
Instead, they only seem to think of a day at a time, so they often need
to work all day on the fine days but only for a while on the wet days. Kahneman
feels they ought to think in terms of the whole year instead of one day at a
time. Many might agree with him , if he ever put that case to the cab drivers,
but it is not as solid as Kahneman thinks, for it is possible that they may
have personal preferences for their current habit in some cases, if not in most
cases. Note too that this does not relate well to Kahneman’s main thesis of
fast and slow thinking, unless he feels they are doing only fast thinking on
all this, which seems most unlikely.

The Horizon team
ask some New York people what the occupation is of a man who is meek, mild and
tidy: is he likely to be a farmer or a librarian? Most answer that he is likely to be a
librarian, but the team say that he is more likely to be a farmer, as there are
about twenty times more famers in the USA than librarians. So they say that the
New Yorkers tend to err.

They do not notice that this is ignorance of the
numbers in the USA, plus the bias towards the town life they are used to,
rather than it is to do with fast or slow thinking. Indeed, why is the USA as a whole even germane?
The team did not state they meant the whole of USA rather than what might be
the case in New York. Why should the people they asked take the whole of USA as
a base?

But the team, and Kahneman too, are like this
throughout the whole programme. They feel they are clearly finding faults when
the faults might just as well be in themselves. There are not more farmers in
New York, so the whole thing is not so solid as the team seem to think it is.

Anyway, more thinking or slower thinking would not
have told the people questioned that there was more than twenty times in
farming than work in libraries in the USA as a whole had they not known that to
begin with. They need information for
that rather than mere deliberation. But the team do not seem to notice that.

This lack of information, or ignorance, relates
neither to logic nor to intuition. And intuition is not one whit alien to
logic. But the team tells us that it shows a lack of slow thinking but rather
the using intuition or fast thinking instead. It is the team that seem to err there,
and in more ways than one.

Kahneman then appears to say that those errors made
by the public are not arbitrary or random but that they reflect bias. They
reflect fast thinking. They reflect cognitive bias. They recur again and again,
say the team.

We are then told of an experiment that shows that
many people do not see things that the team, and a jury in a certain tail of a
policeman called Conley, feel that anyone was bound to do, namely to see a fight that might be happening if we run by.
We are told of a policeman, Conley, who was chasing a criminal but he bypassed
a group of other policemen who beating up a person. When asked later in court,
Conley said he did not see this fight but the jury thought he was a liar who
had lied to cover up for the policemen involved. Conley said he was, maybe, too
keen to catch the man he was running after at the time to notice.

One of the Horizon
team, Chris Chabris, thought the jury was maybe unfair to call Conley a liar.
Chabris did an experiment and found that fifty per cent of runners involved,
ordinary joggers, just failed to notice the mock fight that he set up on the
side of the route he set for them to run along as they ran past. So Conley
might well have been honest rather than the liar that the jury held him to be.

This hardly seems odd to me. Many people are not
very observant when focused on doing something else, like chasing a criminal, and
Chabris did well to go against the main idea that Conley must clearly be lying
here. But, once again, the example does not relate to fast thinking; let alone
show us that fast thinking is of a different kind to slower thinking, as
Kahneman and the team hold as their main thesis.

Fast thinking is then called system one whilst slow
thinking is called system two, but why?
I suppose it is to suggest a big difference. But this programme looks
loose, as did the book that Kahneman
published last year, when I looked at it. I mean to complete the review I began
on that later. It is not as bad as it might be, but it is still clearly a very
poor book.

Kahneman looks like a weak thinker to me. But he
plays to a popular gallery about human rationality, or rather human
irrationality. We might see this gallery as the Romantic paradigm that replaced
the Enlightenment after 1789. This paradigm shift was more to do with mere
fashion than being owing to a case of true intellectual progress, as Thomas
Kuhn might say. As Popper admitted in his 1970s Schilpp reply to Kuhn, there
are fashion changes, even in science, but it is far from being a good thing. Popper thought that it could even be the death
of science if ever what Kuhn calls normal science actually becomes what Kuhn
calls it. It was this sort of paradigm
shift of fashion change rather than intellectual progress that brought about any
success. The supposed of Keynes in
economics in the 1930s was similar.

We make many decisions that we do not even realise
that we make, the team continue to say. System one, or fast thinking, takes most decisions such that we may only
notice two out of every ten decisions that we make. Our slow thinking is
logical and rational. It is the mind we think of as ourselves, we are told, but
most thought is automatic, or almost automatic, it is fast whilst slow thinking
requires some work and so it is reluctant; or rather it is we who are often too
lazy to undertake that work; we cannot be bothered, so we settle instead for
the prima facie thought that the mind
finds at once, the team tell us.

Here the team seem to be in two minds themselves for
they say we are at home in deliberation and yet it is hard work. And they say
do we truly not even notice our many tacit decisions? But is that the
case? It seems not to me. We seem to be
fully aware of our many decisions.

I think
belief is automatic but not that our habitual, or usual fast thought, is but
Kahneman and the team seem to be right for once on saying that deliberate
thinking often involves work and the economists might tell them that work,
unless it is a greatly motivated labour of love, is highly likely to involve
some disutility. We feel a need to
economise on what Kahneman calls slow thought, or system two. It may well be a
false economy sometimes, of course.

Nor do I think that most people like language as
much as the college trained team or Kahneman does. The team say that we
identify ourselves as deliberators, that we think of ourselves as language
users. But most people will, I expect, see what they calls fast thought, or
what I call tacit thought, to be more like themselves at ease, or to be more
natural or care free rather than that they identify with relatively unpleasant
deliberation, that many people often do like to dodge, as the team say, unless
it is on something that they normally like. Yet the team also say that is where
the heart is with most people. This common academic over-rating of language and
deliberation calls to mind some academic sociology that might get Kahneman and
the team to rethink, as it suggests that the less educated masses might be more
at home with tacit thinking, or that
even some quite well educated people might be too.

Basil Bernstein in the 1960s noticed that there were
two types of language codes, that he called the
elaborated code and the restricted code. The restricted code tended to forever
underestimate how much needed to be made explicit if one wanted to be
understood, especially with strangers. Bernstein denied that he was making anti-working
class points but he was clearly on about the majority of the UK 1960s
population who would then be called lower or working class, however much his
fellow sociologists were muddled on that meme.

Some noticed that
even those called middle class also were often tongue-tied or seemed to hope
that they did not need to be more elaborate, or explicit, to be fully
understood, like the proles, or the proletariat, for the well-educated too
rather hoped that those they were talking to could rather successfully just
guess their meaning. On this paradigm, most people tend to identify with tacit thought rather
than with deliberate explicit thought as the Horizon team and Kahneman tends to assume.

The restricted code
is, maybe, suitable for close friends, or insiders who share assumptions and
understanding on the topic, but with strangers or in the academic essays in the
colleges the more elaborated code that made things more explicit was clearly
needed. This was nearer the normal habit of the middle class, but far from
being universal even with them. This need to be more thorough is taxing for
most people, maybe even for most of those called the middle class too. It sometimes
involves quite a bit of disutility. We are more likely to feel at home in the
restricted code or even when we are completely tacit or silent.

But though
deliberation requires more effort, it is hardly completely distinct from normal
thought, even if it is more of a cost to indulge in or often
even something of a pain in the neck at times that we would sooner refrain from
exercising than to indulge in.

The plain fact seems to be that Kahneman and the
team are not good at either fast or slow thinking but they seem exceeding at
home in clear hubris when they say we are at home in mainly unwelcome deliberate or slow thought, as they are when
they imagine they are truly finding faults in the irrational general public.
They seem to err when they say tacit thought is like a stranger or that we do
not even notice most of the tacit decisions that we make.

We are told by the team that slow thinking is the
star but that it invents unrelated reasons to justify whatever we do, leaving
the real system one, or fast thought, or what I call tacit motives to be
completely forgotten. So we all make up a false self by rationalisation, we are
told. This is a fond dogma that most people today may well agree with the team
on, but it hardly seems to be true as far as I can see. It is a dogma of the
cheap wisdom often called vulgar “cynical”
but has little to do with the Cynic philosophers of old.

So the team say that our real intuitive self is
denied or overlooked! System two, or slow reasoning, invents false reasons for
what the impulsive system decides. Kahneman says that decisions are made
without our knowledge but later rationalised but this looks like mistaking what
many might call “cynical” ideas with wisdom. The team tell us that we are not aware
of our impulsive motives very often, if ever at all. But the reality seems
rather to be that we do not bother to make up bogus motives but it is true that
we may not always tell others why we do
as we do. Sometimes we might even tell others false stores about our motives,
if there is a reason to do so. There is no reason to tell ourselves lies or rationalisations
about our own motives. With telling others it would be lying , of course. But
the team want to say that we lie to ourselves. That is not likely but it is a fond
dogma with the Romantic gallery that the Horizon
team are playing to.

We are then shown by the team two cases of wine
selling. A small number is shown to people on bits of paper then they are asked
how much they think a bottle of wine is worth. They all reply with answers that
fit a small price range near the mentioned small number in dollars. Then a
larger number is suggested to other people by similar bits of paper and when
they are asked what they thought a similar bottle of wine was worth they came
up with a higher price range, again near to the suggested higher number. The idea was that the suggested number had
more impact than had the bottle of wine itself. Would any number do? The team
tended to suggest that it might.

The idea seems to be that the two groups of people
asked were led on by the suggestions rather than guessing a natural price for
the wine, but the team tend to overlook that there is no natural price for any
wine that the people being tested had foolishly ignored. Both prices will have
been too steep for those who do not think much of drinking wine, like me, but
both price ranges might have been well worth it for actual wine lovers. Prices
are not so much a measure of objective value but rather money is just a means
of exchange at any particular time.

Whether a price is too high is a personal feeling
depending on how much money one has and how much the good on sale, here the
wine, relates to other things we might want to buy instead, but all that seems
to be as lost on Kahneman and the team, as were the number of farmers in the
USA were lost on the ignorant New Yorkers who thought a shy man was more likely
to be a librarian than a farmer if ever they met him in New York. Like the New
Yorkers, they take their first assumptions almost uncritically; fast thinking
maybe. But the team feel greatly superior to the New Yorkers. Kahneman, in
particular, ironically smiles at the camera like some gormless fool as he
reflects how very foolish the taxi drivers are.

One of the team says we remain loyal to earlier
decisions rather than bothering to think afresh about the current one, as it
saves thought in deliberate system two. We are told that psychologists have now
found a hundred and fifty cognitive biases that usually lead to human error.
Indeed, they call them errors in themselves. The team say that people pay too
much attention to what they want now rather than to what they might want later
on but they ought to realise that current and future desires are equal. But are
they really equal? The team seem to make false assumptions in thinking. They seem
to have more to learn from economics than to teach the economists. In treating
arithmetic as if it lacks any bias, as if it must apply to all things neutrally,
seems to be the team’s own pet error. We might call it an arithmetic bias.

Anyway, any assumption at all will risk error, and
will introduce bias by any content. The
team do not seem to realise that fact. They tend to assume that some
assumptions might be risk free, especially those with arithmetic. They might
learn from economics where marginal theory holds that extra units usually
deliver decreasing diminishing returns in utility with uniform units.

Kahneman tells us about the Halo Effect, where we
favour our friends, but the psychologists long to say that we do this
unconsciously when it is plain to most people do so quite consciously. But
maybe the team mean we do not just favour our friends but think they tend to
lack faults, or we do not quite see their faults. If so, then that would seem
to be a common crass dogma of current common sense rather than any factual
finding of psychology, but it is the
sort of dogma against the human race that we might expect the psychologists to
adopt like they adopt the dogma of the Unconscious mind. They want to make a
science out of their college study departments but do they have anything to say
of import to anyone from their psychological study or from so-called brain
science? It would seem not. They seem to have made exactly no progress since
the day of William James in the late nineteenth century, and it seems
reasonable to think that will be still the case in 500 years’ time too. No
science of psychology was ever needed. Common sense is enough for interpersonal
relationships.

Kahneman seems to be hinting at the old dogma of the
Unconscious mind with his notion of fast thinking, a false idol but one that
psychologists and brain scientists remain very fond of. It seems psychology never was, nor ever will
be, a progressive science as it cannot truly do better than mere common sense
but rather it seems to be merely a Politically Correct [PC] ideology and in PC
alone it transcends common sense. In its futile attempt to make a case against
the human race it tends to, forever, remain quite barren.

The reports in books on brain science read today
almost exactly as they read in the 1960s, only the older reader now finds them
harder to credit. Their repeated song of much expected progress on top of
having already made more progress than ever before in the last fifteen years, a
claim made on the UK radio once again this week, looks as poor as the Green’s perennial
cry of wolf. This is especially the case when one recalls that an identical
claim for brain science was made, also by psychologists on the radio, as well
as in books, in 1968.

We are told by the team that impulsive spending is a
bias, as is not seeing things from the other person’s point of view, and indeed
that we are so riddled with bias that it is a wonder whether we can ever make a
rational decision at all! But any assumption will be biased ipso facto. Any content at all will be biased. So all
this is a typical series of brutum fulmen
from the psychologists. As any assumption will be biased, so to think at all is
to risk error, but it is also the sole means to any truth.

What about trained experts? Do they also err left,
right and centre? Yes, say the team.
Donald R. Kretz, a man in charge of the experts who keep a look out for
terrorists in USA, carries out an experiment on his team of experts on
terrorist threats to the public. He
seemed about as un-self-critical as Kahneman is and he seems about as proud of
his own mediocre ideas as is Kahneman too.
He was very concerned about conformation bias, but he does not seem to
be aware of Karl Popper’s idea of the duty, that we all have, to try to refute
our own pet ideas, that might be the remedy to that common academic hubris
problem that he clearly has about as much as this Horizon team has but Kretz
does try an Agatha Christie type plot with many red herrings in a type of
experiment on a group of anti-terrorist experts but he has a group of twelve
mixed with some lay members too.

Could he trap them with his red herrings? That this
plot was just a story-like plot, and that it was also aimed to trap the twelve
seemed almost to be lost on Kretz, despite him being the author of the plot. He
seemed to think that his own trap was a test at how backward the experts were
on real cases, that the experts falling into this trap was on par with them
getting the wrong result in an actual real case of terrorism. As it happened they
all did fall for his red herrings apart from one, who was not one of the experts.
So eleven get it wrong but the one who got the right answer was not an expert.
He did see the author’s plot as well as the author did.

Kretz fools the experts to go for the known
terrorist group within the plot, the Network of Dread whereas, in his
plot, it is the previously
non-terrorists, the cyber-hacking group,
the Masters of Chaos, who were held by the author to be an emerging new terrorist threat but the team missed
this, owing to conformation bias. Kretz feels his plot-experiment is
informative. This looks like clear
hubris, like the ideas of Kahneman, that arithmetic is unbiased, such that the
amount of money now and the same amount in the future must be of equal value.

But the Horizon
team return to their pet idea that it is exactly with money where humans get
most confused. Money changes the way humans react to the world, they say. We
hate to lose out; we hate the risk of loss too.
We prefer to be safe. There is a bias of loss aversion.

We are told that economics assume that humans are
rational. But how could that assumption affect supply and demand analysis?
Would it affect the downward slopping demand curve that Gary Becker assumes, if
it were to be dropped for the supposed truth that the team have that humans are
irrational? It seems not, but the playing to the gallery of popular
anti-economics of the psychologists continues nevertheless. It won Kahneman the Noble Prize for Economics
after all. We are told by the team that he helped to create a new branch of
economics called Behavioural Economics.

We do not look at what arithmetic tells us for we
usually hate to lose more than we love to gain, they tell us. Kahneman keeps to
his dogma that arithmetic is somehow neutral, or unbiased, here. But if humans
prefer not to lose rather than to gain, as he says, it is hardly germane that
both are the same in mere arithmetic. But this is ignored, or not even
realised. So Kahneman feels it is a
clear error to overlook it or not to realise the equal arithmetic, as it will
therefore be the same in utility too, but that might not be the case, as it is
not in equal utility with the case of diminishing returns. But that possibility
seems lost on Kahneman.

If the disutility from loses is truly greater than
the utility from gains, if this is how we are and how we are bound to be, as
the team says, then it would merely be
silly to equate the two, owing to equal arithmetic, as Kahneman and the Horizon team dogmatically, or
thoughtlessly, say. They seem to suffer from a bias that arithmetic must be
neutral psychologically to the extent that they cannot even notice it when they
tend to refute themselves. This Popper might call reinforced dogmatism.

We are told that it was excessive optimism that
caused the 2008 financial crisis. One psychologist, Professor Heish Shefrin,
says he feels sure that it was only the assumption of human rationality that
led to that financial trouble. The effect that money has on how people think
was at fault. Conformation bias played a great role in that crisis. If the
thinking of the bankers was not distorted by money then the trouble in 2008
could have been avoided, he says, and the Horizon team agree. They feel that a better financial system
might have been designed if only we had earlier realised that people are not
rational. Here they tend to overlook that the idea that man is rational has
been held as being a very naïve idea at least since the Romantic paradigm took
over from the Enlightenment one after 1789. Most people feel they have known
that we are often irrational long since. It looks mistaken to me but it is the
top idea.

The team feel they can find out quite a bit from
evolution. We are introduced to the study of monkeys, where we might find clues
to the evolutionary origins of human error and conformation bias. We might see
where we got it from. We are taken to the island off Puerto Rico, called Cayo
Santiago, with an academic researcher, Laurie Santos. The monkeys on this
island are shown to favour friendly traders even though it costs a bit more but
the team think this is irrational rather than that the extra friendliness is
worth it to the monkeys. Ironically, the team seem to be fast to rest on this
idea that the monkeys should not be biased towards the friendly traders, but
there is no clear reason why not. The
team seem to be critical about their pet ideas.

Kahneman is nowhere near as bright as he thinks he
is, indeed he seems to be rather dim, but he is not as dim as most on this particular
Horizon team, for most of the
psychologist experts consulted during the programme, as well as the one who
wrote the main script, hardly seem to think at all. They are Romantic champions
of irrationality as against the naïve paradigm of the Enlightenment that held
that man was rational. Romantics usually hold, as a dogma, that the normal
person cannot stand too much reality, or truth, as T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) did,
but the plain fact seems to be the very opposite, that most people do not like
stupid people, like the members of this particular Horizon team seem to be, as do so many others in the colleges seem
to be too. The people that man the colleges tend to suggest that the
pre-college examinations they passed to get into college were an inverse natural
selection that selected out, or favoured, the thoughtless instead of the
brighter people as is supposed by common sense.

Many people often boast openly that they “do not
suffer fools gladly”. They are thereby a bit illiberal there, but that is way
more like the normal person is, than that it is impersonal reality itself that
normal people cannot put up with. Note that it is not the reality of many unknown people out there are fools that the
average person finds it hard to tolerate but rather the particular minority of
others who they frequently meet, or they
know, who they certainly think are fools.
The Horizon programme did
repeatedly unwittingly suggest that the team were made up of fools.

Anyway, the truth seems to be that it is sheer
hyperbole to say that we are in two minds with fast and slow thought. As Hobbes
said in his 1651 book, intuition is normal thought speeded up rather than
abnormal or distinctly different alien thought of some distinct sort. It is
merely faster, that is all. But, as any Chess player knows, the more time we
have to think, the less likely we are to err. That is why we play Chess by the
clock. Almost anyone will play way better if allowed to take as much time as
they need over making a move in Chess. But we do not thereby use a different
sort of thought when we think things over slowly.