People are Lazy
A few years ago, I concluded from my experience as a teacher that people, at their most basic level, are lazy and crave simple answers. How I came to this conclusion is a story in itself. Well, turns out that there is a biological reason for this.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about two systems that govern our thinking. System 1 is what we’d commonly call our intuition, our immediate reaction to a situation; System 2 is what we’d call our reason, our ability to reach a conclusion that is non-intuitive. System 1 is fast and automatic; System 2 is slow and deliberative. Using System 2 to reach conclusions requires mental work and prolonged usage wears us out. You can guess where this is going.
A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieveing the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.
So if people are lazy (i.e. averse to expending energy) by nature, and using reason requires work, then it’s no surprise most people choose not to use it. Kahneman says that a recurrent theme throughout the book is:
Many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.
Is it any wonder then that people prefer superstition, easy diets, 10-step programs and self-help books to the hard work of self-reflection and change? No, not really.