I’ve been reading David Brooks’ book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. The basic idea is fairly simple: we are not alone. How we interact with each other strongly influences who we are and what we become.
Often, however, we don’t recognize just how strong those social forces are. Many of them operate at subconscious levels. Citing Strangers to Ourselves, by Timothy Wilson, Brooks estimates that our minds can take in 11 million pieces of information at any given time. But we’re only aware of 40 of them, at most. Wilson writes that, “Some researchers … suggest that the unconscious mind does virtually all the work and that conscious will may be an illusion.”
Brooks compares the conscious mind to a “… general atop a platform, who sees the world from a distance…” while the unconscious mind is “…like a million little scouts.” The scouts “… maintain no distance from the environment around them, but are immersed in it.”
Brooks also cites Daniel Patrick Moynihan in writing that “… the central evolutionary truth is that the unconscious matters most. The central humanistic truth is that the conscious mind can influence the unconscious.”
If you think that this sounds like System 1 and System 2 that Daniel Kahneman writes about (click here), well… you’re probably right. System 1 is always on, it’s automatic, and it makes quick decisions, often without your realizing it. System 1 is the default setting. Unless System 2 intervenes, System 1 will spin merrily along, running your life. While System 1 is right most of the time, it can make systematic mistakes.
While Brooks’ writing covers similar territory, he approaches from a different angle than Kahneman. He treats not only the influence of the two systems but also the influence of others. How we behave is remarkably influenced by other people.
I expect to write more about Brooks and Kahneman and how they compare. Today, however, I’ll just summarize some interesting tidbits that I’ve picked up from Brooks.
I hope these tidbits capture your imagination. They certainly have captured mine and I’ll write a lot more about Brooks and Kahneman in the coming weeks.