In Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, he argues that human beings utilize two metaphorical systems to construct perceptions and make basic decisions. System 1 is what we would define as our instinctive, automatic self, whereas System 2 is our logical, more reasonable half. Together, these two systems define the basis for how we assess risk and act accordingly in the face of life events.
Let’s talk about these two systems as if they are two distinctive personalities of mine. System 2, let’s name her Christina, likes to approach decisions as if they were a math problem- identifying relevant variables, determining how these variables interact with each other, and formulating a solution based on fact-based events. System 1, her name will be Christy, hurriedly makes decisions based on ingrained generalizations of past experiences. If you’re like me, you recognize that Christina probably makes better life decisions and, thus, is more successful overall. However, you also recognize that Christy, though a little more rash, isn’t completely absent from your state of being. In fact, she tends to intervene quite often.
Throughout Kahneman’s book, he seems to gloat about Christina as if she were the golden child- always doing the right thing, taking the entire situation into account before jumping to conclusions, and making calculated decisions. Christy, on the other hand, is the child gone rogue who probably ran away from home to work as a barista in the most hipster part of Portland. Before reading Kahneman’s book, I thought that by the end I’d be convinced that Christina should be the poster child of my existence. Interestingly so, I ended up favoring Christy. I saw Christy not as a counterpart to Christina, but as a direct result of Christina’s existence.
So let’s go back to non-metaphorical terms here as to not get confused. What I’m saying is that our “gut feeling” doesn’t just magically appear one day and make decisions for us. Our gut feeling is an invention selfishly made by our logical self so that we don’t always have to go through the steps of a calculated decision for every life event. It’s an accumulation of years of cause and effect, trial and error, successes and mistakes, and every other dichotomy you can think of. This is not to say that our gut feeling is always right, just like we wouldn’t say that every calculated decision we make is completely accurate. However, it is a testament to the idea that our automatic system is a repository of thoughts and reactions that system 2 no longer needs to worry about. System 2 can hand these situations off to system 1 who will then say, “Yeah, I already know the answer to that”. The benefit of this is that you can conserve your mental capability in preparation newer, more challenging questions life can and will throw at you.
In reality, it’s not a competition between which system is better for you, but rather it’s about being conscious of which system is best suited for the situation at hand.
Christina is the star student who took the prescribed route of a college degree to start her career as a management consultant at a Fortune 500 firm. Christy is the seasoned consultant who discovered her passion for teaching and moved to San Francisco to pursue a Ph.D. in Behavioral Economics. Neither situation better than the other, but both a product of the same source of information, which in this case would be the 25 years of my existence. Where my fate lies? … I’m still waiting patiently for the answer.
(After writing this, I seriously wish I had two imaginary systems named Christina and Christy that I could just delegate my life decisions to… )