Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman (plus Flow by Csikszentm

Richard Zen, modified 9 Years ago at 2/2/14 8:09 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 2/2/14 8:09 PM

Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman (plus Flow by Csikszentm

Posts: 1665 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
I'm still reading most of the book but I found that certain sections would be more relevant to the site and would be great for meditators trying to understand practical problems of attention/distraction/over-load in life. This review includes lots of "Flow" by Mihayli Csikszentmihayli as it helps advise on how to reduce anxiety in more conventional ways as the cognitive load increases.


Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

The two systems

System 1: operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

• Detect that one object is more distant than another.
• Orient to the source of a sudden sound.
• Complete the phrase “bread and…”
• Make a disgust face when shown a horrible picture.
• Detect hostility in a voice.
• Answer 2 + 2 = ?
• Read words on large billboards.
• Drive a car on an empty road.
• Find a strong move in chess (if you’re a chess master).
• Understand simple sentences.
• Recognize that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles an occupational stereotype.

System 2: allocates attention to effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

• Brace for the starter gun in a race.
• Focus attention on the clowns in a circus.
• Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room.
• Look for a woman with white hair.
• Search memory to identify a surprising sound.
• Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you.
• Monitor your appropriateness of your behavior in a social situation.
• Count the occurrences of the letter a in a page of text.
• Tell someone your phone number.
• Park in a narrow space (for most people except garage attendants).
• Compare two washing machines for overall value.
• Fill out a tax form.
• Check the validity of a complex logical argument.

• System 2 has some ability to change the way System 1 works, by programming the normally automatic functions of attention and memory. Eg. When waiting for a relative at a busy train station, you can set yourself at will to look for a white-haired woman or a bearded man, and thereby increase the likelihood of detecting your relative from a distance.

• System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in low-effort mode, in which only a tiny fraction of its capacity is engaged.

• System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions and intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and this fine – usually.

• System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains.

• System 1 has biases, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances. Sometimes it answers easier questions than the one it has asked, and it has little understanding of logic and statistics. This can create conflict between the two systems when they don’t agree.

• System 1 cannot be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it-unless your attention is totally focused elsewhere.

• You dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once. You could not compute the product of 17 x 24 while making a left turn into dense traffic, and you certainly should not try.

• You can do several things at one time but only if they are easy and undemanding.

• Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention.

Attention and Effort

• System 2 is lazy and will reluctantly invest more effort than is strictly necessary. Therefore System 1 tends to guide System 2.

• When System 2 is activated the pupils dilate.

• The pupils offer an index of the current rate at which mental energy is used. We have limited control over the effort of doing it.

• As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved. Talent has similar effects. Highly intelligent individuals need less effort to solve the same problems, as indicated by both pupil size and brain activity. A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. If there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature. [I'd like to think that what people on this site describe as "attention bounce" is related to the above]

• Effort is required to maintain simultaneously in memory several ideas that require separate actions, or that need to be combined according to a rule – rehearsing your shopping list as you enter the supermarket, choosing between fish and the veal at the restaurant, or combining a surprising result from a survey with the information that the sample was small. System 2 is the only one that can follow rules, compare objects on several attributes, and make deliberate choices between options.

• System 2 can program memory to obey an instruction that overrides habitual responses.

• Switching tasks from one task to another is effortful, especially under time pressure.

• The more use of working memory, the larger the effort that is needed.

• Self-control requires attention and effort. Controlling thoughts and behaviors is one of the tasks that System 2 performs.

• As shown in willpower studies, will or self-control is tiring.

• Altering your environment to increase “flow” allows for more effortless effort. Increasing skill is necessary for this to happen.

Flow - Csikszentmihalyi

Theravada Buddhism refers to "access concentration," which is a state of flow achieved through meditation and used to further strengthen concentration into jhana, and/or to develop insight.

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihalyi lays out the following three conditions:

1. Goals are clear
2. Feedback is immediate
3. A balance between opportunity and capacity

Alternate version by Owen Schaffer:

1. Knowing what to do
2. Knowing how to do it
3. Knowing how well you are doing
4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
5. High perceived challenges
6. High perceived skills
7. Freedom from distractions

Challenges to staying in flow

Some of the challenges to staying in flow include states of apathy, boredom, and anxiety. Being in a state of apathy is characterized when challenges are low and one’s skill level is low producing a general lack of interest in the task at hand. Boredom is a slightly different state in that it occurs when challenges are low, but one’s skill level exceeds those challenges causing one to seek higher challenges. Lastly, a state of anxiety occurs when challenges are so high that they exceed one’s perceived skill level causing one great distress and uneasiness. These states in general differ from being in a state of flow, in that flow occurs when challenges match one’s skill level.

The autotelic personality

Csíkszentmihályi hypothesized that people with several very specific personality traits may be better able to achieve flow more often than the average person. These personality traits include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only. People with most of these personality traits are said to have an autotelic personality.

Up to now, there is not much research on the autotelic personality, but results of the few studies that have been conducted suggest that indeed some people are more prone to experience flow than others. One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) found that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for "high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth" compared to those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to enter the flow state.

Experimental evidence shows that a balance between skills of the individual and demands of the task (compared to boredom and overload) only elicits flow experiences in individuals characterized by an internal locus of control (extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them) or a habitual action orientation (ability to persevere with a task and stay focused). Several correlational studies found need for achievement to be a personal characteristic that fosters flow experiences.

Some quotes from Csikszentmihalyi:

Flow - quotes

“If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them.”

“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.”

“If one has failed to develop curiosity and interest in the early years, it is a good idea to acquire them now, before it is too late to improve the quality of life.

To do so is fairly easy in principle, but more difficult in practice. Yet it is sure worth trying. The first step is to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention, with skill rather than inertia. Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes, dressing, or mowing the lawn become more rewarding if we approach them with the care it would take to make a work of art. The next step is to transfer some psychic energy each day from tasks that we don’t like doing, or from passive leisure, into something we never did before, or something we enjoy doing but don’t do often enough because it seems too much trouble. There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them.”

“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person's skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.”

“The task is to learn how to enjoy everyday life without diminishing other people's chances to enjoy theirs.”

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act.”

“The psychic entropy peculiar to the human condition involves seeing more to do than one can actually accomplish and feeling able to accomplish more than what conditions allow.”

“On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dull, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure.

What does this contradictory pattern mean? There are several possible explanations, but one conclusion seems inevitable: when it comes to work, people do not heed the evidence of their senses. They disregard the quality of immediate experience, and base their motivation instead on the strongly rooted cultural stereotype of what work is supposed to be like. They think of it as an imposition, a constraint, an infringement of their freedom, and therefore something to be avoided as much as possible.”

“Pain and pleasure occur in consciousness and exist only there”

“the self expands through acts of self forgetfulness.”

“These examples suggest what one needs to learn to control attention. In principle any skill or discipline one can master on one’s own will serve: meditation and prayer if one is so inclined; exercise, aerobics, martial arts for those who prefer concentrating on physical skills. Any specialization or expertise that one finds enjoyable and where one can improve one’s knowledge over time. The important thing, however, is the attitude toward these disciplines. If one prays in order to be holy, or exercises to develop strong pectoral muscles, or learns to be knowledgeable, then a great deal of the benefit is lost. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.”

“It is better to look suffering straight in the eye, acknowledge and respect it’s presence, and then get busy as soon as possible focusing on things we choose to focus on.”

“The essence of socialization is to make people dependent on social controls, to have them respond predictably to rewards and punishments.”
Mettafore, modified 9 Years ago at 3/25/14 12:21 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 3/25/14 12:21 PM

RE: Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman (plus Flow by Csiksz

Posts: 170 Join Date: 3/24/14 Recent Posts
Thanks, Richard. This was very helpful.

Some of these quotes remind me of the Hindu concept of Karma Yoga, or performing an action for the sake of it without any expectation of reward or fruits of Karma. I wonder if they also meant flow.

Many times it is easy to forget that Apathy and Boredom is not something that happens to us, but as a consequence of lack of attention.
Richard Zen, modified 9 Years ago at 3/25/14 6:25 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 3/25/14 6:25 PM

RE: Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman (plus Flow by Csiksz

Posts: 1665 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Luv Suneja:
Thanks, Richard. This was very helpful.

Some of these quotes remind me of the Hindu concept of Karma Yoga, or performing an action for the sake of it without any expectation of reward or fruits of Karma. I wonder if they also meant flow.

Many times it is easy to forget that Apathy and Boredom is not something that happens to us, but as a consequence of lack of attention.

I definitely agree. Boredom is simply the brain craving chemicals when it's in idle mode. Once the brain pays attention to something, interest can appear.
old dried leaf, modified 9 Years ago at 8/25/14 4:42 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 8/25/14 4:42 AM

RE: Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman (plus Flow by Csikszentm

Posts: 40 Join Date: 8/7/13 Recent Posts
Thank you for sharing this, Richard.  In my entire experience of practicing meditation, the most powerful factor that increases my interest to meditation is inspiration.  Learning about the autotelic personality is exciting and very interesting.  Thanks again for sharing.