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A Reasonable Gut

Bored. A toy next to me, looks something like a relay baton. I pick it up and throw it above me spinning. I tried to catch it, failed.

Ah! Thinking, Fast and Slow! A gross and inaccurate simplification, but our mind can considered as two parts: slow and thorough; fast and instinctive.

Instinct

Let’s see if reason turns out to be better here. I thought about it before deciding to throw, the exact moment to look out for, the speed at which it turns. Maybe this lets me catch it first time. Failed. Failed Again. Failed.

Okay, so how about I stop thinking for a moment and simply feel for it. Yeah, I caught it first try, otherwise second.

How consistent could I be at it? I kept at it, feeling for the right moment. Slower. Too slow, maybe a little faster this time. My reasoning was lacklustre, like slower or faster has no explanation to it, no context, no nothing. Then again, you’re being too analytical in all the wrong ways. Shut it down for a moment, observe. Your eyes begin to take over, your hand as if being drawn to the baton at the moment it needs to be. You might fail at first, but bit by bit through practice, you subconsciously begin to realise the trick behind it. When you emphasise the mind too much, you fail to let the eyes, the hands, the body to do its job. There’s a disconnect. You’re trying too hard to understand; you can act, feel and observe degrees faster than years of research allows you to do so, so to focus only on the mind is to prevent basic common sense to kick in.

See, I think a lot. I’m thinking a lot about how best to learn to catch it on one hand, yet the other is amazed at the difference between knowing and feeling, instinct and reason. When I was using reason to figure out the best moment to catch it, I couldn’t catch it. I figured the best way was to hold out my hand shortly before I could see the makeshift baton. Makes a lot of sense in theory, but my mind couldn’t keep up with the speed, so I kept missing. I switch to feeling for it, my eyes start doing the work, my hand reacts, it sees the exact moment I need to extend and grab.

Reason

That was about a year ago. I’m sorry, but I’m not done trying to understand yet. Of course there are a mountain of times when deliberate reason is far better. I want a moment though, a moment I feel stands out apart from the rest where it’s black and white, alongside other moments with shades of grey.

I found myself purchasing one of those sliding maze puzzles recently.

This.

About five hundred levels with increasing difficulty, there came a point where of course I was stumped. I kept moving the pieces, bit by bit. I had an what was going on, but I couldn’t express it to myself, so it’d take about twenty minutes to figure out a puzzle. Even when I did, it frustrated me how I could feel for what was right, I knew what was going on, but because I couldn’t express it to myself clearly, it took so long to get there. Even when I did, it felt like I simply got lucky, so I felt like I learnt nothing.

My brother was nearby and pointed out something interesting. He said I had a tendency to group certain blocks in the puzzle together. For example, I’d never move an orange block except I’d attempt to move another like it, so he suggested thinking outside the box and considering each piece as different. They didn’t need to be together.

Outside the box it is. I know I had a feeling for what was right, I knew I was getting frustrated, so I stopped, spent the rest of my day doing whatever, got some sleep and then went back to it the next day. I stared at the puzzle, asking myself what it is I want to do with it. I began to talk to myself, letting myself know what obstacles were in front of me, how certain movements would end, the different movements I could make. A minute later, I’m moving. Solved the puzzle I struggled with from the day before, not a single mistake made. Next level. Again, not a single mistake. Next level. A few mistakes here and there, but the levels get increasingly difficult anyhow. Compared to the day before though, this was a major jump in ability.

Back and Forth

Seeing the mind as fast and slow is a gross simplification. We say it is to help us make sense of something complex. However, seeing as we’re doing what we can to make the complex easy, I may as well go along with it and build on it.

I’ve found that you start slow when the situation itself is stagnant, like the puzzle I was doing. I have ample time to figure it out, so I do. However, the fast part of the mind allows you to take in every little detail, it gives you information. You let your eyes wander, you feel for the concerns you have. The slow part once again takes over and takes those concerns into account. You act and come across a situation you hadn’t predicted, so your eyes once again wander and take in the moment. Rinse and repeat, until a moment comes where sometimes you can’t even distinguish fast from slow anymore.

The baton was no different. I felt for it, I began to notice certain moments led to certain outcomes, so I now I had the information I needed to make sense of what was happening. I became aware of certain habits I needed to let go of, alongside habits I should keep as I threw it. Then I shut my mind off and simply started throwing again, except my mind wasn’t technically shut down, I was simply allowing the rest of my body to do its job with the knowledge of the habits I provided it with.

Fast with Slow

There are book smarts, then there’s street wise. I’d say that book smarts require us to think slow, but being street wise means we’re thinking fast, thinking on our feet. I find we tend to ignore the second, something others have pointed out too,

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Isaac Asimov

Anyone can tell you to respect your parents, but it seems few will know how that looks like when they start to disrespect your partner or when you have to let them know something they’re doing is wrong. Some insist you continue to show them respect, others tell you to fight back. Slow tells you to show respect, fast lets you know that you’re now having to consider enjoining truth, so the slow once again considers how best to express respect when it comes to enjoining truth, while the fast absorbs stores this knowledge in for any similar situations you might encounter in the future. In time, you build character. You learn you can defend your partner from your parents by bringing up his or her merits. You could’ve reminded them that it’s your responsibility to fulfil your partner’s right to feel safe, i.e., it’s not on them to judge or to act, it’s on you, even if it has to be against the parents. None of this involves kicking and screaming, only grace by Allah’s mercy.

This post isn’t about treating parents well though. It’s about finding the right balance between thinking fast and slow, allowing knowledge to become wisdom, vice versa.

Long story short, there’s such a thing as thinking too much. To act or feel is to simplify, which creates more space for us to learn.

That’s what I’ve come to learn anyhow. What are your own thoughts on thinking and feeling? Do you tend to emphasise one more so than the other?

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