Thinking is hard.

Humans are brilliant pattern recognition machines and we love it when things fit into pre-ordered patterns rather than having to take the time to figure our new ones. Fair enough. This does, however, leave us with a side effect when dealing with abstract and not-entirely-obvious problems that we must grabble.

As a result we make leaps in logic (assumptions) to get the answer that makes the most sense to our preexisting notion of how things should be. This leads us into the world of “lazy” heuristics. Heuristics are techniques we use to speed up the processing of information to find a suitable answer for whatever we are dealing with. It could be something banal like baking or something entirely too large to conceptualize tile timey-wimey.

If it wasn’t for thinking heuristically we would be consistently exhausted be what the modern world throws at us. We need this higher-order abstract pattern recognition in order to function.

If we rely too much on using our existing heuristic patterns without modifying them we can create a state of mental stagnation. This is sometimes called “Cognitive Laziness“, which is sometimes referred to as cognitive dissonance.

Creativity Post has a great article on how these heuristic leaps can actually decrease our creativity. At the core of the article is the notion that by not reframing the problems were are looking at we are missing possible solutions and leaving entire days of thinking out of the equation.

They cover a few test like the Wason selection task amongst others that you can try out at home. Don’t worry if you get the answer wrong because it doesn’t reflect on your background so much as it does your effort. From the article:

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.

If you do get the example logic problems in the article wrong you probably had a gut feeling that you were off. It turns out that when we take these heuristic shortcuts we don’t have as much confidence in our answer than if we stopped to think about the problem. Obvious? Not really, because it’s hard to prove.