Intuitive and Logical Thinking

This week, as I always do, I listened to the latest podcast episode of On Being. I like to describe it as an interview program that explores where spirituality and religion touch everyday life. I find it both practical and inspiring. Each week, the host (Krista Tippett) interviews a different guest. This week’s interviewee was Daniel Kahneman, the bestselling author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. While I haven’t yet read the book (it is on my electronic “pile” of books to read on my ereader), I am fascinated by his concept of System 1 thinking and System 2 thinking which he discusses in this interview.

He describes System 1 thinking as the kind of thinking that happens when someone asks you what the answer is to two plus two. You don’t think about it or do any calculating. The answer comes effortlessly because it is already there in your consciousness. System 2 thinking is more linear and deliberate. It’s what happens when someone asks you to solve seventeen times twenty-four. You have to go step by step through the process of multiplying to arrive at the answer. He goes into how these two systems work together and how what starts out as System 2 thinking can often become automatic System 1 thinking (like driving a car or riding a bike).

In addition to each interview produced for the hour-long program and podcast, On Being also publishes each complete and unedited interview on Soundcloud. I don’t listen to these each week, but I was so fascinated by the produced interview and how it relates to much of what I have been reading and thinking about technology, boredom, and deep work that I decided to listen to it. I am so glad I did! At about 1:25:30 into the interview, he is in the midst of talking about artificial intelligence when he mentions my favorite game — the ancient board game of go. He talks about how he is fascinated by the fact that a computer program has finally beaten professional humans at a game that is based largely on System 1 thinking, or intuition.

I like to think about System 1 and System 2 thinking as intuition and logic, respectively. One of the many reasons why go is my favorite game is that it combines both of these kinds of thinking. In order to play well consistently, you need to be able to think both logically and intuitively.

Playing the game also helps players learn to balance big picture thinking (strategy) with what to do in specific situations (tactics). The game is most popular in east Asia (China, Japan, and Korea in particular). Playing go into their advanced years has been credited with keeping people mentally sharp while business men and women use it as a model for competing in business.

The social aspects of the game are fascinating as well. Each game is started by wishing your opponent a good game and at the end players thank each other for the game and often review together in a friendly way where things went well or took a bad turn. The combination of cognitive and social aspects of the game, I find deeply intriguing; I simply love this game! And the fact that a reference to it showed up in one of the podcasts I regularly listen to was a wonderful moment of serendipity.

If you are interested in learning more about the game of go, here is an excellent article recently published in Chicagoly magazine. You can also learn how and where to play in your local area (US only) at usgo.org.

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