You might think, taking a quick glance at their titles, that these two books would be in substantial agreement with one another about the speeds of thought. But consider these two comments, in one of which the deliberative, logical mind is “slower” than the intuitive and emotional — while in the other, it is the rational mind that is “faster” and the intuitive mind which is “slower”. Brought together, the two quotes are amazing — it would seem that either one or the other must be wrong:
Happily, I don’t believe either one is wrong — I think it’s more a matter of there being three speeds of thought, and the two books in question using different terminologies to emphasize different distinctions between them.
Roughly speaking, the mind possesses three different processing speeds. The first is faster than thought. Some situations demand an unselfconscious, instantaneous reaction. … Neither a concert pianist nor an Olympic fencer has time to figure out what to do next. There is a kind of ‘intelligence’ that works more rapidly than thinking. This mode of fast, physical intelligence could be called our ‘wits’. (The five senses were originally known as ‘the five wits’.)
Then there is thought itself — the sort of intelligence which does involve figuring matters out, weighing up the pros and cons, constructing arguments and solving problems. A mechanic working out why an engine will not fire, a family arguing over the brochures about where to go for next summer’s holiday, a scientist trying to interpret an intriguing experimental result, a student wrestling with an examination question: all are employing a way of knowing that relies on reason and logic, on deliberate conscious thinking. … Someone who is good at solving these sorts of problems we call ‘bright’ or ‘clever’.
But below this, there is another mental register that proceeds more slowly still. It is often less purposeful and clear-cut, more playful, leisurely or dreamy. In this mode we are ruminating or mulling things over, being contemplative or meditative. We may be pondering a problem, rather than earnestly trying to solve it, or just idly watching the world go by. What is going on in the mind may be quite fragmentary. What we are dunking may not make sense. We may even not be aware of much at all. As the English yokel is reported to have said: ‘sometimes I sits and thinks, but mostly I just sits’. […]
That third mode of thinking is the one Claxton identifies with “wisdom” — which is interesting enough. Just as interesting, though, is his identification of this slowest mode of thought with “wicked problems”:
Recent scientific evidence shows convincingly that the more patient, less deliberate modes of mind are particularly suited to making sense of situations that are intricate, shadowy or ill defined. Deliberate thinking, d-mode, works well when the problem it is facing is easily conceptualised. When we are trying to decide where to spend our holidays, it may well be perfectly obvious what the parameters are: how much we can afford, when we can get away, what kinds of things we enjoy doing, and so on. But when we are not sure what needs to be taken into account, or even which questions to pose — or when the issue is too subtle to be captured by the familiar categories of conscious thought — we need recourse to the tortoise mind.
I haven’t read either book, and I’d hope that Kahneman as well as Claxton actually addresses all three speeds of thought. But my immediate point is that the slowest of the three forms of thought is the one that’s best suited to understanding complex, wicked and emergent problems.
And that’s the one that can’t be hurried — the one where the Medici Effect takes effect — and the one which provides Claxton with one of his finest lines, with which he opens his book, a western koan if ever I saw one:
There is an old Polish saying, ‘Sleep faster; we need the pillows’, which reminds us that there are some activities which just will not be rushed. They take the time that they take.
More on that front shortly, insha’Allah and the creek don’t rise.