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Instant Questions, Judgements, and Answers

Posted on May 15, 2019 by Diana Roberts

How many times a day do we call upon our mind to answer a question or make a judgment immediately? In our normal state, our mind has intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes our way. We like or dislike people long before we know much about them; we trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; we accept the reports or opinions of those that seem reliable to us without ever investigating their sources of information. We look at an enterprise that we believe is bound to succeed without analyzing it.  Often have answers to questions that we do not completely understand, relying on evidence that we can neither explain nor understand. 

What is this dynamic in each one of us? How do we create and generate intuitive opinions on complex matters? Author Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, has a theory on how this occurs within our brain. If the brain does not find a satisfactory answer to a hard question quickly, it will find a related question that is easier and will answer it. He calls this operation of answering one question in place of another “substitution.” The simpler substituted question and answer is called a “heuristic.” 

What we are really doing in this automatic brain action is that we are making a judgment of probability without knowing precisely what the probability is. When called upon to judge probability, we actually judge something else and believe we have judged probability. In its simplest term, we might call this our intuition. 

This automatic rapid-fire brain function is at the core of our daily decision making. It is the consequence of a mental shotgun, a million times a day, the imprecise control we have over targeting our response to questions. As Kahneman points out in his best- selling book: 

“The automatic processes of the mental shotgun and intensity matching often make available one or more answers to easy questions that could be mapped onto the target question. On some occasions, substitution will occur, and a heuristic answer will be endorsed… [that] … has the opportunity to reject this intuitive answer, or modify it by incorporating other information.” 

It is important that we understand that this automatic process exists in everyone’s brain to process vast incoming flow, as we debate, inform and seek agreement with our social, religious and political issues. 

Daniel Kahneman makes several important observations in his study: 

  1. “The dominance of conclusions over arguments is most pronounced where emotions have evolved.” Pg. 103. 
  1. “Your emotional attitude to such things as irradiated food, red meat, nuclear power, tattoos, or motorcycles drives your beliefs about their benefits and their risks. If you dislike any of these things, you probably believe that its risks high and its benefits negligible.” Pg. 108 
  1. “The primacy of conclusions does not mean that your mind is completely closed and that your opinions are wholly immune to information and sensible reasoning.” Pg. 103. 
  1. “Its [the brain] search for information and arguments is mostly constrained to information that is consistent with existing beliefs, not with the intention to examine them.” Pg. 103,104. 

What we as progressives need in the fight to keep the First Amendment to the US Constitution pure, as we come better understand this mental process, is a verbal response appropriate to disarming a counter view at the initial stage of the conversation. We know if we meet the counter view head- on we may win the debate, but we also know that we will have changed no one’s opinion or mind. We seem to need a simple formulaic verbal response that can open a discussion with the opposing view. It would be a great service if our like-minded nonprofits would delve into this subject and perhaps even offer some training seminars.  

It is now clear that until we understand how the brain blocks discourse by prejudgment by using faulty reliance on probability guessing there can be no discourse. We must find a way past this blockage otherwise we are all trapped in a Mexican standoff like Congress. This is not to say that we should diminish our proactive political and religious efforts to protect our rights in each state and in Congress. This is just the other side of the coin seeking mutual understanding. For legislation to withstand the test of time it takes both sides of the coin. 






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