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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

System 1 vs. System 2 Thinking

Daniel Kahneman, in his 2011 book "Thinking fast and Slow" for which he won a nobel prize, talks about two systems of thinking that comprise the cognitive functions of human beings. He developed this idea to address a number of cognitive biases that he saw in people when he conducted experiments, for example that people are loss averse meaning they place a greater value on avoiding a loss rather than achieving a gain, particularly with money. What does this have to do with making music? Well it gets interesting when we start to look at the characteristics of the two systems of thought that Kahneman describes.

System 1: fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, subconscious.

System 2: slow, requires effort, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious.

A good way to illustrate the above is if I ask you what 2 plus 2 equals. You answer without thinking that 2 plus 2 equals 4. That's system 1. Whereas if I ask you what 17 times 146 is, you need to stop and think about the answer to get it. That's system 2.

So when do we need to apply each system? Well it seems pretty obvious to me...

System 1 or what we might call intuition should be applied in the creative stages. Here you need to make fast automatic decisions on your ideas (and whether they work or not) and keep your track moving until completion before you get sick of it through over listening, which will result in system 2 creeping in. If you've ever been stuck on a song before you know what I am talking about here, you start to over analyse stuff in your track that most people won't be paying attention to when they listen, and progress grinds to a halt. You've shifted into the slow, logical calculating system 2 thinking characterised by an "...I just have to get this part right before I can move onto the next part" type mentality. The thing is that system 1 often makes mistakes but can live with that as an acceptable risk in order to make decisions quickly. To keep progress on your idea happening until completion it's vital that you start off in this mode.

Later on, when you are refining your idea and mixing it down, you need to shift into system 2. Here is where it plays a vital role, you want to be making calculated decisions with reference to your mix to polish your idea to it's full potential.

Hope this was helpful, it is something that I have been thinking about a lot recently and that helps when I am planning a session. Is it going to be a system 1 or system 2 session? Are you mixing or are you being creative?


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