This Week I Learned: Our brains have associative arrays [2021–11–26]

Our brains do a lot of conscious thinking, and that’s what we’re really aware of as ourselves. They also do a lot of very lookups outside of conscious thought: given an input, follow a previously set mapping to an output. Fast. Without questioning it. Without even being aware of it. Boom, the answer is just there.

This has some advantages: it’s fast, it doesn’t tire you, and you become better at automatically as you spend time in a given problem domain. If you experience an input and and associated output then your brain stores that away for next time. The more it happens the more your brain takes this shortcut, without what we’d call “thought”.

However, as Daniel Kahneman shows, it’s also possible to trick this lookup system into giving really bad answers that seem so obviously right that we just don’t question them. Watch as he makes his audience stop trusting their own brains.

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