Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving Enhancing and Accessing Expertise: Finding the Personal Community of Thought and Feeling in Our Own Self

Enhancing and Accessing Expertise: Finding the Personal Community of Thought and Feeling in Our Own Self

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The behavioral economists identify some important kind of habits that often are provided to us by the society in which we live as well as being comfortable ways in which we “naturally” think and act. These habits are called “heuristics” and consist of such forms of comfortable (and often lazy) ways of thinking as picking the first thing (or the last thing) that is presented to us, picking what everyone else has picked, or picking that which is loudest, flashiest, more emotionally-arousing – or simply easiest to understand and remember. Advertising executive and marketing experts know all about heuristics but haven’t been inclined to tell us about these habits until the behavioral economists opened the operating manual of these executives and experts—and did extensive research to demonstrate how heuristics operate in a very powerful and predictable manner.

On the one hand, heuristics are quite valuable in helping us get through the day and make trivial decisions about which cereal to buy or which of the many varieties of coffee to order from the local Starbucks. They serve much less valuable (and even counter-productive) functions when engaged to determine who will receive our vote or deciding on the best treatment option to combat our cancer. Sadly, our front burners are often not available when confronting these more difficult decisions—for we are likely to be stressed when confronted with these decisions. Our most thoughtful internal expert residing in the prefrontal cortex is often unavailable leaving us with no good option other than relying on one of our heuristics-based middle burner experts. Actually, there is another option: we can turn to an external expert to tell us what to do. Unfortunately, the choice of external expert is often governed by one or more of our internal heuristics—and the choice is often flawed. Herein resides one of the sources of crisis in the way expertise is engaged and abused in mid-21st Century life.

Even when we are not stressed (or fatigued or sick or under the influence of some drug), the heuristic might be hard to avoid—for it is often deployed by us in a semi-conscious or even unconscious manner. We return to Michael Polanyi (2009) who probably would suggest that our heuristics and other middle- burner habitual processes are known only “tacitly.” This means that we can probably learn what they are, how they operate, and when they are operating, but this requires that we pay close attention and that we think critically about our thinking. This so-called “meta-level reasoning” is not easy to do—and it must be engaged by our prefrontal cortex (which might not be present at the time when our heuristics and habitual thinking are in full operation). Polanyi identifies this front-burner process as “explicit processing” and the material being produced by this processing as “Explicit Knowledge”.

Whether we are using Polanyi’s term, the term being use by the behavioral scientists (Heuristics) or the other term we used above (expository memory), the task we are facing is daunting, for the second system of memory (procedural) that we have identified is fully in charge. This system operates when we are engaged in some behavior (or thought process) that is routine in nature. It is quite valuable (much as heuristics are valuable) when we are navigating our everyday life.

For instance, when we have been driving a car for many years, we should not focus on our driving but should instead pay attention to the conditions surrounding the car we are driving (other cars, turns in the road, weather conditions). Our procedural brain will take care of the driving (steering, accelerating, minor braking). Similarly, when we have been golfing for many years, there is no need to focus on the way we are holding our club and when we are reading as adults, we concentrate on the concepts being conveyed or story being told, not on the meaning of each individual word. We need our expository memory when learning how to drive or how to read, but not when we are skilled drivers and experienced readers.

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