System of A Daniel
Author Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, covers a lot of material within its five hundred and thirty-three pages. He deals with two different ways of thinking, which he calls system one and system two. System one is our automatic or fast side of thinking, while system two is our more deliberate or slow way of thinking. Kahneman says, “I describe mental life by the metaphor of two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which respectively produce fast and slow thinking. I speak of the features of intuitive and deliberate thought as if they were traits and dispositions of two characters in your mind.” These two systems in our brain constantly compete for control to see who is in charge, and it is this competition that can make us prone to errors, mistakes or wrong decisions. The book makes a case for the times you can and can’t trust your intuition or “gut feeling” (my wife has it down to a science). To better understand Kahneman’s idea of intuition, he quotes for us who many consider the leading founder in the study of decision-making, Herbert Simons saying, “The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.” There is so much more in the book that would take more than our allotted seven hundred and fifty words to explain.
I want to talk about this definition by Herbert Simons on intuition and how it applies to us as doctoral students. But to do that I need to tell you about my mom. My mom is a fantastic cook. She is one of those people who measures by feel. She doesn’t need measuring cups, recipes, instructions, guidelines, or door dash. She can taste a dish and almost instantly recreate it. You would think my mom is a trained chef. She has been asked by dozens of people to cater weddings, business events, and dinner parties. When I ask my mom about her ability to create food, she always says it’s just her “intuition .”My mom grew up in a family where she always cooked, she started at around seven, helping to cook, and it grew from there. So now she is at the point where she can create almost anything or recognize almost any taste based on what Herbert Simons would say is “nothing less than recognition .”So, I call her whenever I am cooking or trying to cook. I tell her what I want to do and what I have on hand, and from there, she can guide me on the path to success to cooking a delicious dish. One of these days, I will attempt to make chop suey which is similar to stir fry, but I will do it with her direction.
As doctoral students, we need to trust the “intuition” of those leading us through this process. Kahneman says, “… it is possible to distinguish intuitions that are likely to be valid from those that are likely to be bogus. As in the judgment of whether a work of art is genuine or a fake, you will usually do better by focusing on its provenance than by looking at the piece itself. If the environment is sufficiently regular and if the judge has had a chance to learn its regularities, the associative machinery will recognize situations and generate quick and accurate predictions and decisions. You can trust someone’s intuitions if these conditions are met.” We can trust their “intuition” about our projects because they have been through it and can recognize patterns that we are yet unable to see.
This applies to so many areas in my life and highlights where I am falling short. In his book, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, author Eugene Peterson says, “Everyone who travels the road of faith requires assistance from time to time.” If I am going to achieve what is in my heart to achieve I need to lean on someone that like my mom “just knows” simply because they have been down this road and help guide me on the way I am to go.
 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), 15.
 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), 200.
 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), 205.
 Eugene H. Peterson, Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (S.l.: IVP, 2019), 15.
13 responses to “System of A Daniel”
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Thank you so much for your blog! I, too, liked Kahneman’s description of intuition. Your telling of the way your mom cooks and her experiences and knowledge is such a great illustration of Kahneman’s understanding of cues we receive in familiar contexts and our recognition and knowing of those cues, which create our intuition.
You quoted Kahneman in saying, ” If the environment is sufficiently regular and if the judge has had a chance to learn its regularities, the associative machinery will recognize situations and generate quick and accurate predictions and decisions. You can trust someone’s intuitions if these conditions are met.” Can you give a general example of a time when the environment was not sufficiently regular for a judge to make quick and accurate decisions and you were hesitant to follow them? Thanks so much!
Great question. There have been plenty of times on my life where I trusted someone who was not in the correct environment to be leading me. I just wish I was more hesitant to follow. One in particular is when I was working at a pretty big church and I was depending on someone to lead me through a new role. I should have looked more at their environment before I took their advice but I did not. The advice they gave me was in order to be really good at your position you have to put in a lot of hours because that is what they did. I was trusting their intuition and advice along the way. I did it for two years and it almost cost me my family. So it’s important that if I’m going to trust the guide and their intuition that they have an environment I want to learn from or emulate.
Thanks, Daron, for your reply. I can appreciate how difficult it is to know who to follow when we are in a new job and a new environment. It seems like sometimes we just don’t know what red flags to watch for when everything is unfamiliar. It is all such a learning process. I appreciate your insights and comments! Thank you.
You are blessed, sounds like you will pick up Mom’s intuition as well! Curious can the leading of the Holy Spirit be confused with intuition?
For sure! There are times that I have mistaken something as intuition when it was really the Holy Spirit leading me. It’s how I got to Florida.
Daron, appreciated how you laid out exactly how you got from the book to your illustration. Maybe I’m using too much system one and expect people to be just be with me as I jump from idea to idea.
I think I have faith in our process and program not only through my trust in our leaders’ intuition, but also in the time and effort they put in to continually improve.
I agree! I think the time and effort plays into “environment” that Kahnemam talks about.
I loved how you connected Kahneman’s explanation of intuition to your mother’s cooking method. That was ingenious. I think many of us know people that cook that very same way!
I remember learning to make the family’s cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving from my grandmother. I watched year after year. The year before it would be my turn, I tried writing down everything she did. Somehow I missed an important step she slipped in when I wasn’t looking. It was tiny, but made all the difference. If she hadn’t been in the other room to taste it all along as I made it, and tell me yes or no… I would never have known what it was missing. We lost her the year after that.
Intuition… it is certainly all about recognition. Loved your post, as I always do!
Thank you Tonette!
I bet learning that recipe is a cherished memory for you. What a privilege to be the one to pass that down in your family.
great analogy with your mom’s cooking. I look forward to hearing how the chop suey turns out.
You mentioned trusting the “intuitions” of those leading our program because they have been where we are. How has this trust given you confidence to move forward with your project?
So right before our trip to Africa I was going to change my project completely. I’ve been going one direction for over a year and I thought I had an idea that was going to cause me to switch it all around. I emailed my project guide and she walked me off the ledge and showed me how to integrate. It has helped me tremendously.
Daron – Thank you for the practical example of your mother’s cooking as an intuitive System 1 mode of processing. It made me wonder if our personalities have an impact on our modes of decision-making, as well. Is your mom intuitive in other areas of life, as well?
What is something that you used intuition in your job that elevated you as a leader?