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David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo critique David Brooks’ claim that “The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God.”

Given that humans have lived in social groups for much longer than they’ve had the cognitive abilities to engage in abstract rational simulation and deliberation, it only makes sense that the older intuitive mind, like the newer rational one, had to solve problems of long-term vs. short-term tradeoffs. Therefore, the intuitive mind has to be both craven and moral. Like Aesop’s Fable, it has to have competitive mechanisms that represent the impulses of both the ant and the grasshopper – those that favor short-term gains and those that favor long-term ones. This is why we see virtue and vice in both intuition and reason. Both minds are trying to solve the same problem; they just do it in different ways. Emotions can be prosocial, as Brooks suggests, but they can also be quite self-interested. Reason can lead to incredible generosity just as it can to hypocrisy. If we’re truly going to understand the social animal, we need to recognize that both “minds” are trying to guide us to what they think is best. It’s just that sometimes they disagree.

The full article (worth a read) is here and the original David Brooks column is here.


Nudge readers know all about the two-sides of the human brain theory, System 1 the intuitive side prone to making snap decisions based on emotions and heuristics, and System 2, which relies on slow, cool logic. How many of our decisions each side is responsible for may not be knowable, but a financial psychologist named Brad Klontz is willing to make an estimate.

“It’s a scary time,” Mr. Klontz said. “The emotional part of the brain makes 80 percent of the decisions, and when it really gets activated, it shuts off rational decision-making. It’s lemmings going over a cliff.”

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The most recent issue of Scientific American writes about research into the human brain as two systems – an automatic reflexive side that relies on mental shortcuts, and a slower, conscious rule-based side that relies on logic.