thoughtful and instinctive systems

Behaviour is governed by two different systems in the brain: a thoughtful system and an instinctive system. The instinctive system work without your conscious awareness. The instinctive system is always on. The thoughtful system requires your conscious awareness, and a lot of energy, to work. The thoughtful system is turned off by default. The instinctive system resides in the brainstem, the thoughtful system is primarily the prefrontal cortex.


The Thoughtful System

It is very easy to distract the thoughtful system because it is designed to automatically focus on information that the instinctive system has given a high SigScore. This distractibility is invaluable in straightforward survive situations: it is no good being totally immersed in your woodchopping and missing the wolves stalking you. However, this interplay becomes maladaptive when the instinctive system assigns high SigScores inappropriately.

The thoughtful system is responsible for the six executive functions:

1. Problem solving

2. Planning

3. Working memory

4. Reasoning

5. Task flexibility

6. Execution

Proper organisational structure can improve the performance of the thoughtful system and increase organisational intelligence. Each employee’s instinctive system faithfully remapping the work environment in a way that encourages more accurate analysis and therefore better job performance. Adaptive organisational instincts appear to be an emergent property of the organisational intelligence process.

In the thoughtful system, thoughts are connected logically and are assigned a truth value. In the instinctive system, thoughts are connected relationally, with congruent things being grouped together. Each system sees the world in a unique way.

In the instinctive system, information is processed as patterns of association. In the thoughtful system, the world is understood through logically connected propositions that may either be true or false.

Each system motivates behaviour in a different way. The thoughtful system makes probabilistic assessments of the future. Whereas the instinctive system is directed by conditional assessments of the present.

In the thoughtful system our decisions are linked logically to our intentions. Our intentions guide the instinctive system to gather information for behavioural decisions. Intentions die when they are executed or discarded. Quite often, we cannot immediately start doing something at the same time that we’ve decided to do it. There are a lot of new decisions that are dependent on conditions that are not yet apparent.

The thoughtful system is extremely flexible when active, the instinctive system is inflexible in action. However, for any given environment, the instinctive system can be calibrated to either approach or avoid. This orientation can be set by:

1. feedback,

2. past experience,

3. contextual frequency of approach or avoidance behaviour.


The Instinctive System

A great advantage of the instinctive system is that it works fast, and consumes minimal calories compared to the prefrontal cortex. Attention is important for the proper functioning of the thoughtful system and human attention is limited. When the thoughtful system is overloaded, it is harder to exercise self-control.

In the instinctive system, motivational orientation adds valence to information and the resulting change in affect triggers either approach or avoidance behaviour. All behaviourhol acts primarily on the instinctive system.

The information received through one’s sense lens must be congruent with a desired goal. If the instinctive system is calibrated towards approach, in a specific context, it will support the processing of positive information, the experience of positive affect, and the execution of approach behaviour. If the instinctive system is calibrated for avoidance, it will interpret information negatively, generate negative affect, and trigger avoidance behaviour.

Compare a dedicated runner to some who has been compelled to exercise by a doctor, both looking out of the window at the same rainy day.

The eager runner looks out and thinks: “nice, I get a chance to try out my new Nike Cyclone jacket; it’s cooler so I bet I can set a PB today; let’s go!”

The coerced runner looks out and thinks: “awful, I can’t be expected to run in this weather; it’s so wet I could slip, fall and catch a cold; I’m staying in!”

Both share the same environment but the calibration of the instinctive system is what determines their final behaviour. Although we have used words to describe the difference in thought, this is a decision made in brain areas that precede language. What you are really reading are the thoughtful system’s justifications for what the instinctive system has already decided.

The instinctive system is the extensive neural network located in the brainstem which processes information automatically, quickly and in parallel with mid-brain and cortex networks. The thoughtful system is the newer neural network which runs on rule-based reasoning and the manipulation of symbols. This offers the thoughtful system a lot of flexibility through the use of abstraction. The downside to using cognitive abstractions, such as language, is slow operation, unreliability, and limited automation.

The instinctive system sees the environment as a network of patterns. This network makes connections between objects and experiences that are presented within the same spatiotemporal environment to form patterns. We call this network of patterns the mental map. The instinctive system uses a very simple memory system. Instinctive memories develop slowly and are highly resistant to decay. The mental map is slow to update because of the interdependent nature of mapped patterns; the instinctive system is primarily concerned with maintaining congruency between all patterns in the mental map.

The instinctive system’s main goal is the development of procedural knowledge, this is dependent on accurate predictions of the spatiotemporal environment.  The instinctive system has zero capacity for propositional knowledge, that is the domain of the thoughtful system which regulates and rationalises the aims of the instinctive system.



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