Submitted to Phenomenology of Emotions. The 4th Conference on Traditions and Perspectives of the Phenomenological Movement in Central and Eastern Europe, VDU, Kaunas, Lithuania, October 12-13.
A Phenomenological Account of the Dialogue Between an Emotional, Fast Thinking 'System 1' and a Rational, Slow Thinking 'System 2'
Psychologists Kahneman (2011) and Tversky accumulated scientific evidence to clarify the traditional distinction made between intuitive thinking and logical thinking. In various experiences they identified an emotional, fast thinking "System 1" and a rational, slow thinking "System 2". They dared to think of them as two homunculi, which people are familiar with in their daily lives. We further identify System 1 with the unconscious mind, by which we know, and System 2 with the conscious mind, by which we don't know. We apply this distinction to identify the unconscious System 1 as the source of cognitive expectations in our (2018) model of emotional life.
Our model is based on explorations of how we can evoke various feelings by simply playing with our imagination. We can evoke pure, basic feelings (sadness, contentment, surprise, excitement, fright, disgust, suspense, peace) by considering various possible consequences of abstract cognitive expectations, such as guessing what letter is on the bottom of an alphabet block. If we guess wrong, then we may be surprised, and if we guess right, then we may feel excited. But if the answer was very important to us, and we guess wrong, then we may feel distraught, and otherwise content. A key result is that our feelings inform us of the boundary between self and world, what we are supposed to know and what we aren't supposed to know, what makes us feel sad, content or disgusted, and what makes us feel surprised, excited and frightened.
A nice challenge for our theory is the circumstance where we expect something to happen - the death of a loved one to cancer - and yet when they die, we may be sad nonetheless. The distinction between the unconscious and the conscious allows for a simple solution. Our conscious may expect them to die, but our unconscious may expect them to live. If so, then we are distraught when they do die. Evidently, what matters for our emotional life are the expectations of our unconscious. But this suggests the function of our emotional life. It serves as the channel by which our unconscious speaks to our conscious. We can thus play with our expectations and thereby explore the distinction between our unconscious and conscious.
We express our inner life as a dialogue between an unconscious mind, stepped into the world, ever able to formulate a single intuitive answer summarizing all of our life's experience, and a conscious mind, stepped out of the world, able to not know but rather frame questions so that the unconscious must populate a cognitive framework with two, three, four or more perspectives. The unconscious speaks to the conscious with emotions. The conscious models a dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious then speaks to the unconscious with cognition. We relate this dynamic to a variety of findings made about Systems 1 and 2.
We conclude with the implications of a dialogue between Systems 1 and 2. We can imagine the right and left hemispheres of every individual as advocates for intuitive knowing and logical not knowing. A need for a similar dialogue of contrasts in society may explain traditional stereotypes of intuitive female thinking and logical male thinking. Culturally, Kahneman and Tversky's parents were Jews who came to Palestine from Lithuania and Poland, respectively. We can thus also consider whether the distinction between intuitive thinking and logical thinking is somehow characteristic of Central and Eastern Europe.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.