system 1 and system 2 thinking

Yesterday an illusionist opened my eyes. He taught me how easily our minds can be fooled. We often use a mode of quick thinking where our lazy minds conveniently fill in the blanks. That is exactly the thing he takes advantage of to pull off his tricks and amaze us. It worried me because I believe that our continuously decreasing attention spans and constantly distracted minds cause us to use our mode of ‘quick thinking’ thinking more and more. How often do our eyes fool us during the day?

What the illusionist (Viktor Mids) explained to me was the difference between system 1 and system 2 thinking. I always used to believe everything I saw with my own eyes. My eyes never fool me. But I was wrong. They probably fool me several times a day! It completely changed my perspective on things.

It completely changed my perspective on things

A famous illusionist

Yesterday I was at a large technology event with several interesting keynote speakers. One of them was a famous Dutch illusionist called Viktor Mids. He told us how he was able to ‘fool’ his audience with some of the oldest tricks in the book. Simple psychological tricks that had to do with our attention, eyes and minds.

The airplane engine

When he started explaining how it worked, he first showed us a picture with a large airplane and a lot of people around it. Then he showed us another picture – that looked exactly the same to me – and asked us what was missing. What did he mean? Nothing was missing. They are exactly the same! But then he put the two pictures side by side and I saw that in the first picture there was an enormous airplane engine hanging under the wing of the plane. And in the second picture there was no engine at all. Wow! How could I have missed that?

The red hammer

Another example was a test he gave us. First we had to solve three simple sums in our head. Then he asked us to think about a tool. Finally he asked us to think about that tool again and choose a certain color for it. Then he asked the audience what kind of tool they had in mind. It appeared that ninety percent of the people had a red hammer in mind. Amazing!

He explained how he used simple statistics and something he called ‘priming’. Apparently, when he was talking he gave our minds a few small triggers. For example, in his introduction story he mentioned the word ‘hammer’ and ‘red’ a few times. Our minds unconsciously picked that up and when we were asked to think of a tool in a certain color, most people thought of a red hammer.

The Eiffel Tower

The last thing he showed us was a picture of the Eiffel Tower. The picture had strange, unnatural colors and he asked us to focus on the middle of the picture and stare at it for a while. Then he showed us the same picture, but with normal colors. Well, at least for a few seconds. Because when we blinked the picture became black-and-white. In fact: it has always been black and white! Somehow our minds conveniently filled in the colors for us. TRy it!

Source: YouTube channel MINDF*CK – Viktor Mids

System 1 and system 2 thinking

The illusionist explained that what he used here was something called ‘system 1 and system 2 thinking’. It is a concept that is based on a best-selling book from 2011 called ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. The book, that was written by Daniel Kahneman, teaches us a lot about human behaviour. It won several important prizes.

The book summarizes research that Kahneman conducted over decades. In the book he explains that there are two modes of thought: ‘system 1 and system 2 thinking’. System 1 thinking is fast, instinctive and emotional. The other mode of thinking (system 2) is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

System 1 thinking

With system 1 thinking we can do things like: localize the source of a specific sound, solve 2+2=?, drive a car on an empty road and understand simple sentences.

System 2 thinking

With system 2 thinking we can: point our attention towards someone at a loud party, dig into your memory to recognize a sound, give someone your phone number or solve 17×24.

What the illusionist used to fool us was our ‘System 1’ thinking. Our fast, instinctive and emotional thinking. Where our minds conveniently fill in some of the blanks.

I am worried that our continuously decreasing attention spans and constantly distracted minds cause us to use our system 1 thinking more and more. That means we are probably fooled more often. We miss many of the important details that require focus and slow thinking. We make more mistakes and miss out on beautiful thinks that require deeper thought and more time like: a real conversation, remembering and reliving things from the past, solving complex problems etc.

Just be aware of your two modes of thinking: Don’t believe everything you see

Yesterday I learned that I can not always believe what I see. Some things require more attention and thought. System 1 and system 2 thinking both have value. Quick thinking can be very handy sometimes – it may even save lives – but we need to balance it with our ‘slower thinking’. Just be aware of your two modes of thinking. Don’t believe everything you see.

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