This is a post I wanted to write for a long time but kept postponing. Perhaps, this is about letting my imagination break loose. One reason for the slackness is the fact that this is not my current research interest. However, it is a topic I touched in the book ‘the lure of noma’ in some detail.
This is about everyday miracles. We all lead a life full of miracles. Every weekday morning when I drive my car to the train station, for a brief moment, I wonder how I can manage to drive a car in the middle of the lane. I do think about hundreds of events, people, my wishes, my hopes and many other things while my hands are still on the wheel. I sometimes listen to music and talk to someone sitting in the car and still keep the car in the middle of the lane. We never think much about this simple miracle. We dismiss it as the ‘second nature’, ‘automatism’ or ‘automaticity’. If we dare we can ignore this as a kind of ‘unconscious perception’ or ‘blind sight’ which involves two neural pathways. Once we master something and form a habit we don’t have to be conscious about what we do. Is this so?
I think this is an oversimplification of our innate abilities. My point of view is rather philosophical than related to psychology of cognition. While we are driving on autopilot, we make umpteenth number of little decisions. We don’t pay much attention to this fact but our brain can perform this for us. Even though I cannot see the tyres of my car and the spatial relationship of them to the white lines, I constantly make little decisions such as if I maintain a certain visual perspective I am inside the lane. At the curve, I have to turn the wheel and when I come to the end of the curve I should release my grip on the wheel. Thus, for me this is a big application of ‘Rule-of-Thumb” logic. We do not make sure what we do is right as the rule of thumb measure we have internally is good enough to perform the task. Our conscious minds make such deductive decisions umpteenth number of times while we are driving.
Then why don’t we perceive this decision making process? The simple answer is that the brain performs this in such short time spans that our conscious mind doesn’t register this. When we learnt to drive we noticed the turn of the wheels and every other movement of the car. We made conscious, rational decisions as to where on the lane the car had to travel. Over the time, when we became familiar with the car, we developed a very elegant spatial model with which we could make our Rule of Thumb decisions. Can mind work so fast without our conscious self noticing it? There are many experiments done by psychologists working on the affect primacy hypothesis which could help us understand this possibility. In these experiments subjects will be exposed to primes presented below the threshold of awareness. Then they will be subjected to the target stimuli and asked to evaluate them as likes or dislikes. The priming would be done for a very brief period like 10 ms while the stimuli would be presented to the subject for 2000 ms or 2 seconds. If the target stimulus is impacted by the priming stimulus we can argue that the decision to categorise the prime into likeable or not occurred and the decision was made. Then the second decision to like or dislike the target stimuli arose. Based on the first stimuli we made our second decision. This can be thought of as two sets of Rule of Thumb logic decisions. Thus we only take 10 milliseconds to make a rational decision.
We know even animals make Rule of Thumb decisions. Wolfgang Kohler’s work showed that his chimpanzees managed to use sticks or crates to reach bananas kept away from easy reach. To do this goal-directed task they have to make Rule-of-Thumb decisions. As Kohler believed these animals use their insights. If they use trial and error they could be doing so many other things before stumbling on the boxes or sticks. If they use insight, then they should be making rational decisions and these decisions should be based on simple logic steps. Some researchers say the cognitive abilities of two year old human toddler are within the reach of great apes. The apes are capable of secondary representations such as mirror self-recognition, pretence, hidden displacement etc. Even the crows are known to make problem-solving decisions. Their logical thinking processes are well suited to problem solving around their limited social environment. In our case, our environment is far more complicated and creates far deeper layers of interaction.
The rule-of-thumb logic is our everyday logic which we share with our evolutionary ancestors. This is not about intuition or make-sense arguments. This is about an essential part of all who are mobile on their own volition.