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UJ’s Vice-Chancellor leads ‘Thinking fast and slow’ book discussion

Delving into the logical and emotional sides of the human brain at UJ was at the forefront of the conversation during the third Vice-Chancellor book club assembly on the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.

The Vice-Chancellor & Principal Prof Tshilidzi Marwala at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), hosted a gathering of his book club on Wednesday, 15 May 2019 and examined the two different systems of thought and the concept of two selves.

In his remarks, Prof Marwala challenged the scholars to calculate the equation of 2+2 and 78 multiplied by 91 to analyse two modes of thought; “System 1” which is fast, instinctive and emotional and “System 2” which is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

“Kahneman explains that there are two systems when it comes to considering judgement and choice. The first system is fast and automatic in comparison to the second system which is slower and more deliberate,” said Prof Marwala. “Therefore thinking fast is an emotional way of thinking and thinking slow is rational thinking”, he said. “Machines are making human beings rational and you maximize utility when you apply rational thinking”.

It may seem that system two is the dominant system, but Kahneman explains in his book that system one is actually the hero here. Being such a rapid process, system one will inevitably run into problems from time to time, and in this situation, system two will step in for support. Sometimes the situation will call for more detailed processing than system one can account for. When system one simply cannot provide an answer, system two will step up to the plate. Kahneman explains that system two is designed to monitor the thoughts and actions that system one promotes. Not only will it monitor these, but it will also control these by encouraging, suppressing or modifying behaviours.

Prof Marwala pointed out that Kahneman’s aim in this book is to make psychology, perception, irrationality, decision making, errors of judgment, cognitive science, intuition, statistics, uncertainty, illogical thinking, stock market gambles, and behavioral economics easy for the masses to grasp.

“When confronted with a perplexing problem, question, or decision, we make life easier for ourselves by answering a substitute, simpler question. Instead of estimating the probability of a certain complex outcome we rely on an estimate of another, less complex outcome. Instead of grappling with the mind-bending philosophical question, “What is happiness?” we answer the easier question, “What is my mood right now?” explains Marwala.

“In a nutshell, our heuristics influence our choices, which can be irrational, counter-intuitive and sub-optimal. It’s impossible to totally avoid biases and errors from System 1, but we can make a deliberate effort to slow down and utilize System 2 more effectively, especially when stakes are high.”

Prof Marwala suggested that the era of human-computer interaction is giving way to the era of human-computer integration—integration in the broad sense of a partnership or symbiotic relationship in which humans and software act with autonomy, giving rise to patterns of behavior that must be considered holistically.”Realising the potential of pivoting to integration requires a conscious change of approach. Different research questions and design possibilities emerge when you shift from the familiar perspective of human-computer interaction to a view of human-computer integration that is still coalescing,” concluded Prof Marwala.

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