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For most of us, thinking
is at least somewhat unpleasant.
We try to avoid it, where possible.
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$.
And the bat costs a dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost ?
- Ten cents.
- We're all wrong aren't we?
- WHAT'S THE ANSWER ?
If you think about it for just a second
it's obvious that the ball can't cost ten cents,
because if it did, then the bat
would cost 1.10$ 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
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)
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
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.