Which is more reliable, intuition or deliberation?

In his celebrated book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman distinguishes between two types of thinking; he calls them System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 thinking engages our intuition. System 2 thinking requires deliberation and reflection.

Our intuition gives a fast response to stimuli; deliberation and reflection take more time and effort. Intuition can save us time and effort—when ordering from the menu at a seafood restaurant, we may intuit that the restaurant’s seafood is better than its red meat—and is particularly helpful when a quick decision is needed and the stakes are not high (pun intended). At other times, deliberation is best.  

For instance, answer these two riddles:

  1. A bat and a ball costs $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
  2. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

If we rely on our intuition, our answer to the first riddle will probably be: The ball cost 10 cents. And our answer to the second riddle will be: It will take 24 days for the patch to cover half of the lake. Both answers are wrong. Before responding with the seemingly apparent answers, a slower, more methodical approach would more likely yield the correct answers-5 cents and 47 days. 

Both systems are useful, so we need to discern when to use each one. If we analyzed every issue and decision we face in life (System 2 thinking), our lives would grind to a halt. But if we solely rely on System 1 thinking, we’ll often be misled. 

Consider the following scenarios. Which ones would benefit from each type of thinking?

  • You’re hiring a new team member. 
  • You’re considering a new job.
  • You’re choosing a paint color for your bathroom.
  • Your ordering dinner at a restaurant.

Sometimes, we may realize that an issue is very important (for instance, choosing a spouse) so we do slow down the decision-making process, but we still don’t engage in System 2 thinking—we just continue to marinate in our intuition, which tends to strengthen our confidence in it. Instead, we should intentionally seek a more deliberate understanding of the issue. 

One of the best ways to safeguard against being misled by our intuition is to have robust dialogue with other people regarding important issues, because intuition is an individualistic response and groups are uniquely qualified to engage in deliberate thinking (unless the group suffers from groupthink). 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Be kind, be honest, work hard

Five years ago my life changed with the birth of my first grand-baby—Benjamin. I now embrace the unassailable truth that grandchildren are God’s reward for not having killed your own. This picture was taken at my vineyard; Benjamin and I had just enjoyed a day together, playing and working and we were musing over the result.


Here’s a picture of a necklace that I had when I was a child. I wore it periodically during the first 18 years of my life. I can’t remember where it came from or if it had any special meaning. The necklace is made from three colored pieces of acrylic—green, orange, and white—cut in the shape of a scalene triangle. 

I have shown it to Benjamin and told him it will become his when he turns ten. Until then, I let him wear it occasionally and I’m going to use the necklace to teach him three important life lessons.

I have assigned each color a meaning: green represents be kind, orange means be honest, and white is a reminder to work hard. In the next five years he and I will talk a lot about these three virtues; hopefully they will become a permanent part of his life.

Be kind

Benjamin, be kind to everyone, all of the time. Don’t pick and choose who you will be kind to, or when. Be kind to everyone, especially those who may feel marginalized or out of place. And be kind all of the time, because it’s the right thing to do and everyone needs a kind word or deed. 

Being kind can take on many forms, most of them pleasant, but sometimes being kind means telling someone the truth, even though the truth may temporarily cause pain, or saying “no” to someone who wants to hear a “yes.”  

Be honest

B, always tell the truth. Always. It’s the right thing to do and honesty is a gift that we can give to others. Once people realize that you are always honest, they will have confidence in you. Honesty also involves being authentic; be who you are, not what other people want you to be. 

Work hard

Benjamin, this suggestion may seem odd and out of place, but it’s important to me and I hope it will be to you. Growing up, my father never worked and that created hardship and embarrassment for our family. So a good work ethic has always been a priority to me. Work hard and work smart. Some people work primarily with their hands, others work with their minds. Both are necessary and legitimate. I hope you’ll learn some type of manual labor because it will teach you good lessons. If you’re a knowledge worker, stay fresh; be a lifelong learner. Balance hard work with times of relaxation and reflection. 

There are many benefits derived from work: it provides a social network, helps organize your life, gives you purpose, keeps your talents and skills sharp and in use, and it will help sustain your confidence. 

Someday, give this necklace to your child or grandchild and compose your own meanings for the three colors.  

Question: What three virtues do you want to pass on to the next generation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Your memories shape who you are

Plus - the best magazine article I read this week

In his extraordinary book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman teaches that we have two mental operating systems; there are two expressions of self: the experiencing self and the remembering self. 

He describes the experiencing self as an example of the fast, intuitive, unconscious mode of thinking that operates in the present moment, focusing on the quality of our experience in the present. The remembering self is the slow, rational, conscious mode of thinking that tells the story of our experience and how we think about our experience. The experiencing self is the “you” in the moment who lives through the event. The remembering self is the “you” who writes the history. Our short- and long-term sense of well-being is influenced by both.

Our experiencing self is shaped by what’s happening to us in the present (with a little influence from the most recent past and a projection into the near future). As I write this essay, I’m relaxed, sitting in a quiet library early in the morning, having slept well last night. I’m drinking a cup of coffee. In several hours I’ll visit Malaga, a delightful Spanish town on the Mediterranean. All bills are paid, family members are okay, May and I are fine. My experiencing self is happy. 

Our remembering self is composed of memories of the past that we have chosen to remember and have allowed them to shape and influence our lives. I’m 66 years old so I have tens of thousands of memories to select from. Which ones will I choose to focus on? Which ones will find purchase in my life and which ones will fade away? 

For instance, my family of origin had some problems. If I allowed myself to linger on those memories, they would negatively impact my present life. But also during those growing-up years, my church had a wonderful and consistent influence on me—it was everything a loving community should be and it provided wonderful opportunities. At church I felt affirmed, encouraged, accepted, welcomed, and loved. When I reflect on my first 17 years of life, I choose to reminisce on the positive experiences. 

Please listen to this TED Talk by Kahneman. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

This article, by Arthur Brooks, is a good read, particularly for those who are 50+ years old. Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think – Here’s how to make the most of it. [The Atlantic, July 2019]