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     Volume 5 | Issue 49| December 25, 2011 |


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Post Campus

Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow:
The Hare and The Tortoise of Our Mind

Asrar Chowdhury

The last Post Campus of 2011 is food for thought to ponder. First think in fast mode and then think in slow mode. You will experience a very simple yet complex arithmetic problem. There is no need to worry if you get it wrong. This is an exercise to demonstrate how the human mind thinks.

A Bat and a Ball together cost Tk 110. The Bat costs Tk 100 more than the Ball. How much does the Ball cost? A simple arithmetic problem you would come across in primary school. Was your answer Tk 10 for the price of the Ball as you thought fast? Think again and see if the answers are the same as you think fast and slow. After you have thought again read on.

More than half of the students at Harvard, Princeton and MIT answered Tk 10 for the price of the Ball. If the price of the Ball is Tk 10 then the Bat is Tk 110, i.e., together will cost Tk 120. Not Tk 110. With simple algebra: if the price of the Ball is X, then the price of the Bat will be (X+100). Together [X+(X+100)] = 110. This means 2X=10, i.e., X=5. The price of the Ball is Tk 5 and the Bat costs Tk 105. Together they are Tk 110.

The human mind has two types of thinking. Let us call them Type I and Type II. Type II is associated with analytical faculties of the mind and tends to be slower and lazier than Type I. Type II needs stimulation to get it going. Type II is creative thinking- not Type I. Type II is the Hero of today's Post Campus.

From school we are encouraged to think fast. Those who can think fast are rewarded through formal and informal acknowledgements. Formal assessments in education institutes exclusively focus on Type I thinking because exams are constrained by time and also because Type I thinking is automatic to the human mind. Unfortunately, Type II thinkers are a minority because they are slow and go unnoticed like the Tortoise in Aesop's Fable.

We tend to identify a genius as a person who has a super-computer processor in their mind and can answer any complex question correctly even before the question is finished. What we tend to overlook is: a genius' is not created automatically. It takes time for a genius' to blossom and bloom. Type II are the genius'. Type I are the whiz kids. Not all whiz kids are genius'. In fact, not always having an answer to every question can be the first step towards wisdom.

Think about Einstein- who is referred to as a genius. Einstein did not come up with E=mc2 over night. It took Einstein years and decades of painstaking thinking in Type II to formulate his theories of general and specific relativity. It was the Tortoise in Einstein's mind to persistently stick with Type II thinking that made him a genius in the truest essence of the word. The same is applicable for any creative thinker in any discipline.

Type II thinkers are the delicate ones because without proper nurturing they can easily nip in the bud and fail to blossom and bloom. Identifying the minority Type II thinkers is a moral responsibility of education institutes. Once they have been identified through various creative assessments, it is again the moral responsibility of education institutes and more so the society to let them be; and just let them think.

Now think about John Nash. After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, John Nash may never have become the Beautiful Mind he was had it not been for his supervisor Albert Tucker and his loving wife Alicia and of course the Mathematics Department of Princeton. John Nash shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics with John Harsanyi and Reinhard Selten in 1994 for their groundbreaking contributions in Game Theory. Alas! Such Nash equilibrium is an exception, not the norm in history.

Type I thinkers are the sprinters- the Hare who loses stamina and patience after sometime. Type II thinkers are the marathon runners- the Tortoise. The Tortoises are the ones who extend the limits of human experience because they have the mental stamina to survive 26 miles and 385 yards. Stamina alone will not win a marathon. IQ alone will not lead to creation.

Post Campus ends 2011 with a question mark. THINK! Source: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Doubleday, 2011. Kahneman jointly shared the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics with Vernon Smith.

(The author teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)

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