The Biggest Paradox of Mankind

The more I write about personal development, the more I appreciate the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. The paradox explained in this book might as well be the biggest paradox of mankind. It might explain why we are still struggling in our lives as individuals and as societies, nations, and mankind in general.

“Most people would like to think that they are a single, congruent entity. Nothing can be further from truth.”

Daniel Kahneman models our mind as two systems. System 1 is most of the time active, strong, but primitive and prone to irrationality. It is prone to making judgmental errors and make decisions based on biases. However, it’s fast and energy efficient. I like to call System 1, Goliath. We operate on System 1 most of the time, especially when we need to act fast. You can think about System 1 as the auto-pilot mode.

System 2 is intelligent, but most of the time asleep, weak, slow. It requires a lot of energy to operate. I like to call System 2, David.

If someone asks you what two times two is, you can come up with the answer immediately. Your System 1 is good enough to answer that question. But what if I ask you what 54 times 76 is? You need to slow down, think about it, and start making the calculations. In other words, you need to start engaging your System 2.

“There are multiple systems and programs in our minds that are pulling us in different directions all the time.”

Unfortunately, it’s not so obvious when to switch from System 1 to System 2. In some cases, we stay in System 1 instead of switching to System 2, especially when the stakes aren’t that high. When we stay in System 1, we are prone to making logical mistakes. Greater problems ensue from a single initial mistake, because intuitively, we want to stay congruent with our initial decision. Trying to stay consistent is another bias inherent in all of us, which is one of the biases discussed in the book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

It’s a big paradox to many of us that there are separate systems operating in our minds. Most people won’t accept that, another fallacy of System 1. Most people would like to think that they are a single, congruent entity. Nothing can be further from truth. The various systems operating in our minds have evolved in different stages of our collective evolution as species and in different stages of our development as individuals.

“The biggest favor that we can do to ourselves is to figure out the different programs that are operating in our minds, learn to use them consciously, and install new programs that serve our highest goals.”

The various systems in our minds are in constant conflict with each other. While your sexual desires pulls you to a certain direction, your commitment to your life partner pulls you to another direction. While your greed pulls you to a certain direction, your conscience pulls you to another direction. There are multiple systems and programs in our minds that are pulling us in different directions all the time.

While most of the personal development literature tries to engage System 2, we need to engage System 1 and System 2 in order to get the best results in our lives. The biggest favor that we can do to ourselves is to figure out the different programs that are operating in our minds, learn to use them consciously, and install new programs that serve our highest goals. I’m exploring how to do that in my blog posts. If you know any decent resources about this topic, please let me know in the comments.