Our hectic, over-stimulating lifestyle makes us ever more reliant on a primitive thinking reflex called a heuristic.
Think of it this way: The human brain is a belief machine. We need beliefs about when to cross the road, whether the bus will come soon, which food is healthy, which food is nice, how to bring up children and look after aged parents. Our demand for beliefs is so constant that the rational, “higher thinking” parts of the brain can’t be involved in all of them. We don’t have the time or bandwidth to examine every possible decision fully.
So, to save time and energy, our brains are equipped to reach fast, easy conclusions based on clues or signs.
Heuristics are vital for us to function. But here’s the problem: we can’t tell the difference between what comes out of the fast, easy part of the brain and what has been thoroughly thought through. We jump to a conclusion based on one clue, and then regard the conclusion as the result of rational thought.
So is Boris Johnson a better or worse choice of prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn? This question is too complicated, and depends on too many unpredictable things. So what we do is ask ourselves a simpler question instead – one we CAN answer….
Is he my idea of a leader?
Is he honest?
Is he strong?
Is he smart or thick?
Does he care about people like me?
Does he despise things that I despise?
Beware of thinking that you, as a more intelligent or sensible person, are immune to heuristics. We all use them to simplify life. Those of us who realise that we use them can make a better choice. We can ask ourselves whether we want to fall back on one or two ideas when we make our choice. And if we do, which is the best idea to use? And of course… which heuristics are the politicians and the media trying to get us to use?