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The Science of Thinking with English subtitles  

For most of us, thinking is at least somewhat unpleasant.

We try to avoid it, where possible.

For example:

I asked these guys how long does it take for the earth to go around the Sun.

- What do you reckon, cuz?

- Isn't it 24 hours ? - Obviously a day, yes.

Or take this problem

which has been given to thousands of college students.

You go into a toy store,

and there's a toy bat and a toy ball.

Together they cost 1.10$.

And the bat costs a dollar more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost ?

- Ten cents.

- We're all wrong aren't we?


If you think about it for just a second

it's obvious that the ball can't cost ten cents,

because if it did, then the bat

would cost 1.10$ and the two items

together would cost 1.20$.

The correct answer is five cents.

Now, the point of these questions is not that they're difficult.

Any of these people

could have quickly check their answer if they wanted to.

The point is that they don't check

because thinking is uncomfortable.

It takes effort.

- Hey, the Earth doesn't take one day to get around the Sun.

- Takes like a year!


Now, I think it would be easy to put these mistakes down to


and believe that you, being much smarter, could never fall into such traps.

But then I think you'd be fooling yourself.

I think these examples reveal blind spots in all of our thinking

due to the fundamental way that our brains work .

Now, one way of modeling how the brain

operates is as though there are two

systems at work

psychologists call them system one and

system two but maybe it's useful to

think of them as characters so let's

call system one Gun and system two Drew.

You are Drew. he represents your

conscious thought, the voice in your head.

"I am who you think you are"

he's the one capable of following instructions.

He can execute a series of steps.

If you are asked to calculate 13 x 17 in your head, for example,

he is the one who has to do it.

"can just use my calculator?"

no..."all right, um, seventeen times...."

Drew is lazy

it takes effort to get Drew to do anything

and he is slow but he's the careful one,

capable of catching and fixing mistakes...


Now meet system one Gun.

He is incredibly quick,

which he needs to be since he's constantly

processing copious amounts of

information coming in through your

senses. He picks out the relevant bits

and discard the rest, which is most of it,

and he works automatically without you,

Drew, being consciously aware of what

he is doing. For example when you spot

them text he reads it before you can

even decide whether or not you want to

read it

Gun fills in the gaps. For example, what

does this say?

Did you notice that the "H" in 'the'

'A' in 'cat' are actually the same symbol

but you had no trouble reading it

because Gun made the correct, automatic,

assumption, so although Drew is unaware

of what Gun is doing, its Guns

perceptions that become the basis for

your conscious thoughts. The way I like

to think of it

each of these characters is related to

one of your main memory structures, Guns

automatic responses are made possible by

long-term memory, the library of

experiences you've built up over your

lifetime. In contrast, Drew exists

entirely within working memory so he's

only capable of holding four or five

novel things in mind

at a time. This is perhaps one of the

best-known findings from psychology. That

our capacity to hold and manipulate

novel information is incredibly limited

like when trying to remember a string of

random numbers. "6 7 5 5 3 1"

(offscreen)Yes! But we are able to overcome these

limitations if the information is

familiar to us. For example, let me give

you four random digits "7102". Now these would

normally take up most of your working

memory capacity just to remember, but, if

you reverse them, 2017, there now just one

thing the present year the process of

grouping things together according to

your prior knowledge is called chunking

and you can actually hold four or five

chunks in working memory at once. So the

larger the chunks

the more information you can actively

manipulate at one time. Learning is then,

the process of building more and bigger

chunks by storing and further connecting

information in long-term memory

essentially passing off tasks from Drew

to Gun. But in order for this to happen,

Drew first has to engage with the

information actively and effort-fully,

often multiple times. For example, when

you were first learning to tie your

shoelaces, you probably recited a rhyme to

help you remember what to do next

using up all your working memory in the

process. But after doing it over and over

and over again, it gradually became

automatic, that is, Drew doesn't have to

think about it anymore because Guns got it.

Musicians and sports stars refer to this

as muscle memory, though of course, the memory

is not the muscles

it's still in the brain just controlled

by Gun. "You can practice everything

exactly as it is, and exactly as it's written

but at just such a speed that you have to

think about and know exactly where you

are and what your fingers are doing and what

it feels like." Slow deliberate conscious

practice repeated often enough, leads to this:

I bet 99% of the time what appears to be

superhuman ability, comes down to the

incredible automation skills of Gun,

developed through the painstaking

deliberate practice of Drew. What's

interesting is, its actually possible to

see how hard Drew is working, just by

looking at someone. Try this task: I'm

going to show you four digits, I want you

to read them out loud and then after two

beats, I want you to say each number back

on the beat, but adding one to each digit.

So, as an example, 7 2 9 1 (beats in background)

should be...





This is called the Add One task and it

forces Drew to hold these digits and

memory while making manipulations to

them. Now it's important to say the

numbers back on the beat. Try this one:

(beats in background at regular interval)

To make it harder, you can try adding 3

instead of 1.


(beats in background at regular interval)

Now what you're unaware of, is that, as

you're completing this task, your pupils

are dilating. When Drew is hard at work,

as he is in this task, you have a

physiological response: including

increased heart rate, sweat production,

and pupil dilation.

Watch how the pupils of these participants enlarge as they

perform the Add One and Add Three tasks.


(beats in backrgound)


(offscreen) Excellent! nicely done.

(offscreen conversation)..."this requires a lot of thinking" "I know, that's the point

6 9 1 6

7 0 2 7

When this research was originally carried out the researchers

made a surprising observation: when the

participants were not engaged with the

tasks that were just chatting with the

experimenters their pupils didn't really

dilate at all..

this indicates that the Add One and Add Three

tasks are particularly strenuous

for system two, and that most of our

day-to-day life is a stroll for Drew

with most tasks handled automatically by

Gun. Just as we spend a lot of our lives

lounging around, our brains spend most of

their time doing the mental equivalent.

And I don't mean to make that sound like a

bad thing, this is how our brains evolved

to make the best use of resources. For

repetitive tasks we developed automatic

ways of doing things, reserving Drew's

limited capacity for things that really

need our attention, but in some

circumstances there can be mix-ups.

For example, I moved to Australia in 2004 and

one of the first things I learned was

that turn the lights on you flick the

switch down.

My whole life growing up in Canada Gun had automated that 'up' means

'on', so no matter how well I, Drew, knew

that 'down' was 'on' in Australia I would

for years, continually switch the lights

off when entering a room and on when

leaving. When Destin learn to ride the

backwards bicycle with its steering

reverse it took months to overcome his

automated habitat and once he had done

that he couldn't easily go back to

writing a normal bike. Understanding Gun

and Drew also explains errors in the "Bat

and Ball" question. Its Gun who first

perceived the key pieces of information

that, together the bat and ball cost a

dollar ten, The bat costs more than the ball

so the ball costs...

Gun: "Ten cents"

Drew: "Ten cents"

Gun imediately had a answer that he

blurted out automatically.

Meanwhile Drew, without being consciously

aware that the answer came from Gun

endorsed the idea without checking it,

after all the answers sounded reasonable

and drew is lazy

so how do you get Drew to do more

work? Well researchers have found at least one

way. When they gave out a clearly printed

test including the "Bat and Ball"question

to incoming college students 85% got at

least one wrong but when they printed

the test in a hard-to-read font with

poor contrast the error rate dropped to

thirty-five percent harder to read test

resulted in more correct answers and the

explanation for this is simple. Since Gun

can't quickly jump to an answer he hands

off the task to Drew who then invest the

required mental effort to reason his way

to the correct answer. When something is

confusing, Drew worked harder and when

Drew work harder you're more likely to

reach the right answer and remember the experience.

This is something i think the advertising industry knows about and is

using to its advantage. A few years ago,

again in Australia, I saw a giant

billboard that had just two letters on it

"Un". There was no logo, no indication of

what it was for

and this seems to go against all the

basic principles of advertising: to show

what the product does, how it's better than

the competition, and use clear

branding and maybe a jingle to make it

memorable. The goal is usually to make

the message as easy to understand as

possible so Drew doesn't have to work

very hard, but if you look at a lot of

effective advertising today, it's changed

to be more confusing.

as the "Un" campaign rolled out across Sydney, I saw ads like

this one in bus shelters.

"Un" explained. With 'Un' there is no stress, just unstress

no hassle, just unhastle with 'Un' you

can undo what you did, you can undrive

through the car wash with the window

down or unbreak dance in front of your

teenage son. And his mates. 'Un' makes life

relaxing and unreal. 'Un' your life. Be

happy and live for now. Don't worry. Unworry.

Can you guess what the ads were for?

They're actually for insurance. Now that

advertising is everywhere, Gun is skilled

at filtering it out. Its automatic, if I

just saw another insurance ad that I never

would have given it a second thought, but

something that doesn't make sense, thats

something Gun can't deal with, so he

hands it off to Drew

This same realization has been happening

in education: lectures which have long

been the dominant teaching method, are

now on the decline. Like the old form of

advertising, they're too easy to tune out

and often, especially in science lectures,

too many new pieces of information are

presented, and that exceeds Drew's

capacity because he doesn't have big

enough chunks to break the material into.

In place of lectures, universities are

introducing workshops, peer instruction

and formats where students are forced to

answer more questions, do more work than

just listen and take notes, and this will

undoubtedly make Drew work harder,

which is good because that's how

learning happens, but a lot of students

don't like it because it requires more

effort. Just as it's hard to motivate

someone to get off the couch and

exercise, it's hard to get Drew to give

his full effort. There's an appeal to

doing things you already know, for the

musician to play the same familiar songs

that Gun has already automated, that feel

and sound good. To watch videos that give

you the sensation of understanding

without actually learning anything. To

always drive with the GPS on so you

never get lost, but you also never

learn the way. If you really want to

learn and get better at anything, have

any chance of becoming an expert, you

have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

Because thinking takes effort, it

involves fighting through confusion, and

for most of us

that's at least somewhat unpleasant.

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