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By JAMES ATLAS Published: May 12, 2012
AMYGDALA The amygdala (Latin, corpus amygdaloideum) is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain's medial temporal lobe. Shown to play a key role in the processsing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system. In humans and other animals, this subcortical brain structure is linked to both fear responses and pleasure. Its size is positively correlated with aggressive behavior across species. In humans, it is the most sexuallydimorphic brain structure, and shrinks by more than 30% in males upon castration. Conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias are suspected of being linked to abnormal functioning of the amygdala, owing to damage, developmental problems, or neurotransmitter imbalance. For more information about the topic Amygdala, read the full article at Wikipedia.org WHY are we thinking so much about thinking these days? Near the top of best-seller lists around the country, you’ll find Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” followed by Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” and somewhere in the middle, where it’s held its ground for several months, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Recently arrived is “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” by Leonard Mlodinow.
It’s the invasion of the Can’t-Help-Yourself books. Unlike most pop self-help books, these are about life as we know it — the one you can change, but only a little, and with a
We don’t notice when a person dressed in a gorilla suit appears in a film of two teams passing basketballs if we’ve been assigned the job of counting how many times one team passes the ball. Mr. we are captives of biological determinism. dropping steadily to zero until the judges’ “next feeding. not how to fiddle with what Gilbert Ryle called the ghost in the machine.A. Professor Kahneman breaks down the way we process information into two modes of thinking: System 1 is intuitive. Once we enter the portals of the strange neuronal world known as the brain. has synthesized a lifetime’s research in neurobiology. and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.” a primer for well-intentioned parents.” “The Power of Habit” and “Imagine” belong to a genre that has become increasingly conspicuous over the last few years: the hortatory book. they’re full of stories about people who accomplished amazing things in life by. economics and psychology.” Glance at the outside foot of the lineman to see if he’s getting ready to step back. Check the direction of the quarterback’s face to see where he’s going to . “You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before.” It makes decisions — or thinks it does. Duhigg’s thesis is that we can’t change our habits. Mr. rewiring themselves. social cues and temperament that determine how we think and act? Has the concept of free will gone out the window? These books possess a unifying theme: The choices we make in day-to-day life are prompted by impulses lodged deep within the nervous system. with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. meetings instead of bars.” We react to faces that we perceive as angry faster than to “happy” faces because they contain a greater possibility of danger. The effect of these “cognitive biases” can be unsettling: A study of judges in Israel revealed that 65 percent of requests for parole were granted after meals. that demonstrates how we can achieve our ambitions despite our sensory cluelessness. including complex computations. We “normalize” irrational data either by organizing it to fit a made-up narrative or by ignoring it altogether. for instance — that triggers the impulse to drink.. Like Timothy D. who won the Nobel Prize in economic science a decade ago. By instilling in his players an “automatic” response to situations encountered on the field. armed with highly sophisticated science. “Thinking. System 2 “allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it. Not only are we not masters of our fate. Dungy “removed the need for decision making. Professor Kahneman. Duhigg recounts the now legendary story of the football coach Tony Dungy’s system for reviving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. coaches. in effect. psychologists and others in the life-improvement professions. “Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. we discover that — to put the matter plainly — we have no idea what we’re doing. System 2 is logical.. Fast and Slow” isn’t prescriptive. a loser team: teach them not to think. “The Power of Habit” is more proactive. teachers. Wilson’s recent how-not-to book.ton of work. Professor Kahneman shows us how our minds work.” “Thinking. System 1 “operates automatically and quickly. bosses. we can only acquire new ones. Fast and Slow” goes to the heart of the matter: How aware are we of the invisible forces of brain chemistry. Alcoholics can’t stop drinking through willpower alone: they need to alter behavior — going to A. Mr.
” he argued that even our most complex acts are reflexive — “concatenated discharges in the nerve-centres. “The great thing. James addressed the same question that had concerned Hume — how the unconscious operates as a physical process.I. who has been writing on this subject for over half a century. why are we preoccupied all at once with the how instead of the why of things? “It’s a convergence of ideas. then. The fencer knows when to parry and return. Don’t react: act. His major work. like biting their nails. How would we go on living the lives .R. Self-awareness sets us free. Lehrer calls this ability to identify and re-program what goes on inside our heads “the science of insight. “I’ve become more and more dissatisfied with the philosophical tradition.” no capacity to act on our own? Or can autonomy thrive within the prison of self-ignorance? “We have to believe it does.” The hunter spots the bird and shoots.” rules our lives.” If Hume seems modern. watching Robin Williams do stand-up or walking on the beach.” The brain is an organ. “People have always been interested in how the brain works. a mental one. Hume’s experiments with perception — how we respond to colors.” Our minds are more susceptible to epiphanies when we’re taking warm showers.” Consciousness. distance. “is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. and he was fired. is convinced we’re on the right track. Why now? To pose the question that psychiatrists ask their patients. Guess what? The Bucs started to win. “A Treatise of Human Nature. “It used to be that the main explanation focused on emotional or social distortions of thought. numerical sets — prefigure the rigorous science of Professor Kahneman. “snuffling” or speaking with “nasality”? The answer is that we can train ourselves to change if we work at it hard enough. too. anyway. “If we seriously thought that our intentions made no difference to how we behave.” he said last week. like philosophy itself. we couldn’t go on using the language of ethics. using the tools of our technological age — neurobiology. scanner at his disposal. The 18th-century philosopher David Hume (much quoted by Mr. but have a long way to go. but we’ve got to see it as a more natural process. brain scans. Then they went back to losing. stands on a “weak foundation. in all education.” says Professor Kahneman. really. as Freud would have it.” Are we there yet? The linguistic philosopher John Searle. William James reads like a contemporary.” says Steven Lukes.” writes James.throw. Writing toward the end of the 19th century.” What he and his colleagues on the best-seller list are doing now is to “scientize” brain research. In his now-classic essay. But what about people who involuntarily perform acts that are against their own interests. not just. They perform these acts unthinkingly — they act before they think. like digestion and photosynthesis. speaking from his office in Berkeley. but he framed the question in much the same way.) Mr. Does this mean we have no “agency.” explored the ways in which habit. or “custom. Lehrer) didn’t have an M. a professor of sociology at New York University highly admired for his work in moral philosophy. His intent was to show us “the natural infirmity and unsteadiness both of our imagination and senses. “Habit. The color blue puts us in a more creative mood than the color red: it stimulates our alpha waves by triggering associations with clear skies and oceans. (That game. retinal research — to prove that reflection plays a more minor role in our lives than we ever realized.
Fast and Slow” . Fast and Slow. instinctive and emotional. 1973.” Daniel Kahneman (Hebrew: ) (born March 5. 1979). He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work in prospect theory. 1982. The central insight is a distinction between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast. The author of “My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale. 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel laureate. He is married to Royal Society Fellow Anne Treisman. Tversky & Kahneman. In the same year. Slovic & Tversky. which summarizes much of his research. “If we didn’t believe in it.” as we’ve learned from all these books. System 2 is slower. he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers. Fast and Slow is a 2011 book by Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahneman which summarizes research that he conducted over decades. behavioral economics and hedonic psychology. In 2011. Thinking. he is professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School..' OVERVIEW . '“Thinking. 1974). and more logical. and his later work on happiness. is an astonishingly rich book: lucid. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching. a business and philanthropy consulting company. especially when Kahneman is recounting his collaboration with Tversky.. Currently. profound. could well be — indeed. Kahneman is a founding partner of The Greatest Good. As Timothy Wilson puts it with haunting simplicity: “We are strangers to ourselves.we live?” Or doing what we think is right? “People have free will when they ‘feel’ they have free will. his work on prospect theory.” Strangers who can learn how to be friends. With Amos Tversky and others. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making. probably is — an illusion. It covers all three phases of his career: his early days working on cognitive bias. was published and became a best seller.” But of course what one “feels. full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. Kahneman. often in collaboration with Amos Tversky.” says Professor Kahneman. Kahneman established a cognitive basis for common human errors using heuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky. and developed prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky. his book Thinking. more deliberative.. we would have no responsibility.
association. For example. but experiments show otherwise. he takes the reader through several decades of academic research that suggest that we place too much confidence in human judgment. emotional. As shown in the figure below. jumping to conclusions and how one forms judgements. Kahneman is an authoritative author on this subject. He begins by offering a variety of examples in which we either arrive at binary decisions or fail to precisely associate reasonable probabilities to outcomes. one might reasonably assume that an individual would place twice as much value on a 20% chance of winning a prize as opposed to a 10% chance. Mr. automatic. a 10% change in probability has a greater value to most people if it changes the probability from 0% to 10% than if it changes the probability from 90% to 100%. laziness. logical. They also consider the reference point in deciding how much to value either one. Kahneman developed prospect theory to account for experimental errors he noticed in Daniel Bernoulli's traditional Utility theory. effortful. From framing choices to substitution. calculating. Kahneman explains this . more deliberative. This theory makes logical assumptions that do not reflect people’s actual choices because it doesn’t take into account behavioral biases. Kahneman describes the two different ways the brain forms thoughts: System 1: Fast. For example. Other terms and concepts include attention. starting with his ground breaking work on loss aversion. More importantly. Part of this journey is an introduction to terms. Thus. subconscious System 2: Slow. humans are more likely to act to avoid loss than to achieve a gain.Daniel Kahneman discusses research advances over the last several decades that have increased our awareness of the two ways we think: consciously (slow) and subconsciously (fast). infrequent. intuitive. people generally ascribe a different absolute change in value to a 10% chance of a loss as opposed to a 10% chance of a gain. and logical thoughts arrived at consciously. TWO SYSTEMS In the book's first section. frequent. PROSPECT THEORY The basis for his Nobel. having not only received the Nobel Prize in Economics but also being widely credited with starting the field of Behavioral Economics. and emotional feelings historically associated with the subconscious and the term ‘System 2’ to describe the slower. HEURISTICS AND BIASES The second section offers explanations for why humans struggle to think statistically. He uses the term ‘System 1’ to describe the fast. Kahneman delineates cognitive biases associated with each kind of thinking. stereotypic. such as coherence. that are required to discuss the modern understanding of how we think. conscious He then takes the reader through a series of experiments which showed the differences between these two thought process and how they arrive at different results even with the same inputs.
have stronger immune systems. a judge limited to heuristic thinking would only be able to think of similar historical cases when presented with a new dispute. impelling people to take on risky projects. outspoken and very bright. Optimists are more psychologically resilient. experimental subjects gave higher/lower responses. (Every feminist bank teller is a bank teller. rather than seeing the unique aspects of that case. A natural experiment reveals the prevalence of one kind of unwarranted optimism. American kitchen remodeling was expected to average $18.) In this case System 1 substituted the easier question. SUBSTITUTION System 1 is prone to substituting a simple question for a more difficult one.” violating the laws of probability. They asked whether it was more probable that Linda is a bank teller or that she is a bank teller and an active feminist. Optimism protects from “loss aversion”: our tendency to fear losses more than we value gains. and live longer on average than more reality-based opposites. For example. “the Linda problem. In what Kahneman calls their “best-known and most controversial” experiment. This theory states that when the mind makes decisions. phenomena it has already observed. ANCHORING The “anchoring effect” names our tendency to be influenced by irrelevant numbers. The overwhelming response was that “feminist bank teller” was more likely than “bank teller. The “planning fallacy” is the tendency to overestimate benefits and underestimate costs. To explain overconfidence. OPTIMISM AND LOSS AVERSION Kahneman writes of a "pervasive optimistic bias".658 on average. that we have substantial control of our lives.” Experiment: Subjects were told about an imaginary Linda. In a legal metaphor. An alternative view is that the subjects added an unstated implicature to the effect that the other answer implied that Linda was not a feminist. or thoughts. young. "Is Linda a feminist?" dropping the occupation qualifier. rather than creating new patterns for each new experience. Kahneman introduces the concept he labels What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). which “may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases. Shown higher/lower numbers.phenomenon using the theory of Heuristics which was put forth by fellow Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon. was deeply concerned with discrimination and social justice. It rarely considers Known . the theory also offers an explanation for human biases.” This bias generates the “illusion of control”. In 2002. Heuristics asserts that System 1 thinking involves associating new information with existing patterns. single. In addition to offering an explanation for the statistical problem. This bias may be usefully adaptive. but cost $38.769. who. as a student. it deals primarily with Known Knowns. Experiment: experienced German judges proposed longer sentences if they had just rolled a pair of dice loaded to give a high number. a child who has has only seen shapes with straight edges would experience an octogon rather than a triangle when first viewing a circle.
RATIONALITY AND HAPPINESS Evolution teaches that traits persist and develop because they increase fitness. In part this is to avoid feelings of regret. phenomena that it knows to be relevant but about which it has no information. people tend to "throw good money after bad" and continue investing in projects with poor prospects that have already consumed significant resources. Kahneman first took up this question in the 1990s. the choice of that reference point (called a frame) has a disproportionate impact on the outcome. while others were told that the mortality rate is 10 percent. He distinguished this from the “remembered” wellbeing that the polls had attempted to measure. He explains that humans fail to take into account complexity and that their understanding of the world consists of a small and not necessarily representative set of observations. Kahneman called this “experienced” wellbeing and attached it to a separate "self". Experiment: subjects were asked whether they would opt for surgery if the “survival” rate is 90 percent. TWO SELVES Kahneman proposed an alternate measure that assessed pleasure or pain sampled from moment to moment. He found that these two measures of happiness . Kahneman offers happiness as one quality that our thinking process nurture. Finally it appears oblivious to the possibility of Unknown Unknowns. One possible hypothesis is that our conceptual biases are adaptive. when other references points are considered. FRAMING Framing is the context in which choices are presented. The first framing increased acceptance. he also offers advice on how some of the shortcomings of System 1 thinking can be avoided. SUNK-COST Rather than consider the odds that an incremental investment would produce a positive return. as are our rational faculties. unknown phenomena of unknown relevance. and then summed over time. Furthermore. the mind generally does not account for the role of chance and therefore falsely assumes that a future event will mirror a past event.Unknowns. He discusses the tendency for problems to be addressed in isolation and how. In what appears to be his area of greatest intellectual comfort. At the time most happiness research relied on polls about life satisfaction. even though the situation was no different. CHOICES In this section Kahneman returns to economics and expands his seminal work on Prospect Theory.
Further. "A Nobel laureate’s new book Macmillan. However. “I am my remembering self. how does the remembering self get its data? . unknowingly received a few extra minutes of less painful discomfort after the end of the examination. His major discovery was that the remembering self does not care about the duration of a pleasant or unpleasant experience. Rather. and by the way it ends. the remembering self dominated the patient's ultimate conclusion. Bloomberg Business Week. Jim (27 November 2011). ^ 3. who does my living. ISBN 978-1-4299-6935-2. and the experiencing self. since Group B’s procedure ended less painfully. ^ 2. they’re actually shut down (“inhibited”) by the rest of the brain. “Odd as it may seem. the patients in this group retrospectively minded the whole affair less. Roger (October 27. such as watching a movie the parts of the brain associated with self-consciousness are not merely quiet. ^ a b c d e f Holt. The New York Times: p. Thinking. Retrieved 8 April 2012. Group B. If the self is not participating in the experience. 4. Kahneman demonstrated the principle using two groups of patients undergoing painful colonoscopies.” AWARDS AND HONORS 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Current Interest) REFERENCES 1. a b cautions us not to trust our gut". Fast and Slow. i.e.diverged.. The self seems simply to disappear. 2011). "Two Brains Running". Lowenstein. Group A got the normal procedure. ^ Brain-scanning experiments by Rafael Malach showed that when subjects are absorbed in an experience. more total discomfort.” Kahneman writes. a b Daniel Kahneman (25 October 2011). is like a stranger to me. it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak (valley) of the experience. 16.
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