Risk Intelligence, Thinking and Decision Making

by Dr Rob Long on December 27, 2016

in Psychology of Safety and Risk



Risk Intelligence, Thinking and Decision Making

imageA recent article by Dylan Evans (Risk Intelligence) in October 2016 rightly challenges the construct of Kahneman (Thinking fast and Slow). Evans states:

‘This is fine as far as it goes, but it leaves a crucial third kind of thinking out of the picture. This is the meditative, creative mode of thought that the psychologist Guy Claxton calls the “undermind” in his thought-provoking book, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind. It is much slower than Kahneman’s System 2, and works away quietly in the background, below the level of conscious awareness, helping us to register events, recognize patterns, make connections and be creative. This is the kind of thought that can bubble away beneath the surface for weeks or even months, quietly turning over a problem and looking at it from different perspectives, before suddenly thrusting a solution into consciousness in that exciting Eureka! moment.”

Both Evans and Claxton know that humans make decisions triarchically. The idea that humans think triarchically has been a part of every tradition (humanist and religious) for thousands of years and is a key to many psychologies (eg. Freud and Jung see: https://vimeo.com/156926212 ). Unfortunately, the Kahneman construct is binary, perhaps this is why it appeals so much to the fundamentalist mindset so popular in risk and safety (eg. zero harm https://safetyrisk.net/triarchic-thinking-and-risk/ ).

Evans explains:

“I think Claxton is onto something in claiming that the mind possesses three different processing speeds, not two.  Think of it as a kind of “cognitive sandwich” if you like. The top half of the bun is the lightning fast System 1 identified by Kahneman, the world of snap judgments and rapid heuristics.  The bottom half of the bun is the snail-paced undermind identified by Claxton, where thoughts cook slowly in the back oven. Both of these are unconscious processes, operating below the level of conscious awareness. The hamburger in the middle is conscious thought, Kahneman’s System 2.”

I presented a triarchic mode of decision making in my first book Risk makes Sense and in this video:

One Brain Three Minds from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

Why does this matter?

Unfortunately, a binary construct about thinking leaves only an either or assessment of risk. Risk then becomes a ‘black and white’ ‘choice’, either speed 1 or speed 2. This is simple binary choice certainly appeals to those who want to see risk as simple and black and white but the evidence from many in psychology demonstrates otherwise (eg. read Norrtranders The User Illusion) (https://safetyrisk.net/the-triarchic-mind-risk-and-safety/). What is missing is all the grey inbetween the black and white, or as Claxton calls the ‘undermind’ – or the filing in the cognitive sandwhich. The triarchic construct changes the whole way we understand cause and decision making and, opens up a greater tolerance for inbetween thinking in the way humans make decisions. In turn, this leads to less blame and naivety in causality, the great attraction of reductionist risk and safety. Risk and safety is much better off when things are grey than black and white. There is much less attribution, projection and closed mindedness in a triarchic model than a binary one.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.
  • The discovery of the triune brain might be related to the 3 minds too. And the ancients believed rhetoric followed a triad… as in Aristotle’s Logos, Pathos, Ethos for example. It would appear triarchicy is instilled in the brain and mind on many levels.

  • Rob Sams

    Thanks for sharing Rob. If there is on key thing that I have learnt overt the past few years is the trap of binary thinking. This post creates an important discussion if we want to move away from simplistic and binary thinking in risk.

    • Rob Long

      Thanks Rob. The binary mindset is so seductive and destructive. A hot bed for safety to wield its tyranny.

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