None of us are purely analytical or purely intuitive all the time. Instead, we use the type of thought that best enables communication and connection with the people around us, and perhaps also protects us from deception. Social density, and the religiosity that sometimes comes with it, fosters trust and a feeling of belonging, but many such groups are high-context cultures, impenetrable to outsiders. Meanwhile, more cosmopolitan societies and the analytical thinking and trade they invite have been a driver of much of our innovation. Is the artificial separation of the two unfairly leaving religion in the dust?
Sinai and Synapses Fellowship alumni Connor Wood and Jonathan Morgan have continued to have a fruitful collaboration long after their respective cycles of the program have ended. Now they have contributed a chapter to a new book, “The New Reflectionism in Cognitive Psychology: Why Reason Matters,” published by Routledge and edited by Gordon Pennycook. Rabbi Geoff Mitelman spoke with them in a 40-minute interview, which will be published in parts throughout this week. Read the transcript for Part 2, “When To Be Intuitive, When To Be Analytical,” below.Read Transcript
Geoff Mitelman: And you talk a little bit about how one of the challenges of analytic thinking is inherent skepticism, of, “wait a second, why should I believe this?” And that kind of perspective can also often undermine authority, which is, I think, really important when you’re looking at, from a scientific perspective, science – one of the great lines is “science is true whether you believe in it or not.” You’re designed to be impersonal in that way, but that isn’t necessarily the right framework when you are at a wedding, or at any kind of ritual there. Well, why does somebody need to put this particular object in this particular place at this particular time? There’s no necessarily objective reason to do that, but there’s a social function as well.
Jonathan Morgan: Yeah, I think that’s sort of part of what we’re also arguing in the chapter, is that there are actually moments, or social groups, where analytical thinking is definitely the right way to go. So like, if you’re in a cosmopolitan setting, you’re interacting with a bunch of different people who you might or might not see again, you can’t really assume that you and these people share the same sort of set of norms, so your best way of interacting is gonna be sort of at this analytical mode, where nothing is taken for granted – you’re not sort of adopting these tacit norms.
But there’s also other sort of social organizations that are – well, in the chapter we call that sort of “dense sociality.” So in the forms of groups you have a lot of tacit understanding about the way things are. You have a lot of obligations to each other. And that mode of cooperating and interacting in the group is incredibly complex. Like, if you had to parse all of the interactions and the cost and benefit of helping so-and-so now, so that they’ll help you later, the calculus of that would get way too complex for us to handle. But intuitively, we’re very effective at handling that, and like managing our own reputation, and who to trust, and who not to trust.
And so part of what we’re trying to highlight is that oftentimes, religiosity fosters this sort of social density. Not always – like you can definitely be in religious groups that are highly individualistic and sort of foster a sort of analytical thinking – but oftentimes, being religious means being involved in a community where you’re sort of accepting these tacit norms and abiding by them. And there are a lot of advantages to that. And so that’s one of the reasons why we would expect being part of that community to actually foster a sort of intuitive way of approaching the world, and that intuitive way would be pretty functional and strategic within that setting – like, it would pay off in the long run. And if you are in that setting, and are very analytically minded, I think that sort of comes across as challenging these identities, and challenging everyone else’s trust and reliance on the group, so sometimes that can be a very dangerous – dangerous, you know, metaphorically I guess, position to be in. You know, you’re going to stand out, and it’s going to be uncomfortable.
Geoff Mitelman: So another question I wanted to ask – this is a line that a lot of innovators use, and I take it from one of my teachers, Rabbi Irwin Kula, who asks that, really, any kind of question, from a business perspective, from a scientific perspective, from a religious perspective, is “what’s the job this gets done, and for whom?” And these are going to be different questions for different places, in different communities. Being able to say “I want to be skeptical about every single claim,” that’s a great job to get done in the scientific community; it’s not going to be so valuable at a wedding, you know. You’re not going to say, “well, wait a second, are you actually married, can you prove to me that you’re married?”
So how does that play into some of your research here about individualism and the community and intuitive thinking and analytic thinking? What’s the job, in your mind, each of those gets done, and do they get a different job done for different people?
Connor Wood: Yeah, I think that’s a great way of parsing the different roles that intuitive or holistic vs. analytical thinking play in our lives. Because they do play different roles for different folks at different times. When, like Jonathan was just saying, if you’re in a market setting, a cosmopolitan setting – a trading port – you know, midtown Manhattan, Cambridge, Massachusetts, places where there are many different cultures from many different backgrounds all sort of interacting at once, people aren’t going to share the normal, you know, tacit background assumptions that you do if you’re all part of one community. So you have to sort of lower the amount that you rely on intuitive expectations in order to be able to interact helpfully, you know.
And that sort of market-oriented social surrounding is also really important for science. I mean, science really got going in Europe after the Renaissance, often in trading settings, right, like the Northern European cities, where you had ports where, you know, people come in and out of these different goods and services. So I think that’s a setting where analytic thinking really does a great job. You need to be able to question your assumptions and focus on things that everybody can objectively agree on. Whether I speak Dutch and you speak Portuguese, we can both agree that these tulips are valuable, and that that gold is also valuable, and we can exchange them in our broken versions of each other’s languages.
What intuitive thinking is good for (and this is not something directly that we have in the chapter, this is actually a project that I’m pursuing right now in a separate paper that’s forthcoming later this year with my colleague John Shaver at the University of Otago in New Zealand): intuitive thinking helps institutional thinking. It helps us to deal with institutions, which are in the words, in the thought of the philosopher John Searle, institutions are social facts, beliefs that we have that are not based on objective reality, but which instead we co-create through performance and obligation and what he calls status functions.
So you can have a room that’s just a bunch of walls and a door, but if you treat it like a court room, and you say – and then somebody comes in wearing robes and then bangs the gavel and says “Court is in session,” right, that’s an illocutionary act, as John Austin called it. It’s a thing that we say, that only by saying it, is automatically true, if it’s said by the right person in the right context. So “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” that’s another version of an illocutionary act. When the officiant at a wedding says that, it is automatically true by tautology at that moment.
So these types of behaviors, these institutional behaviors, where we co-create something that didn’t exist in the objective world before that – that’s what makes human sociality possible. That’s the difference between humans and chimpanzees and gorillas. Gorillas and chimpanzees have social emotions, sometimes they even cooperate a little bit, they have reciprocity, right, like “I’ll groom you and you’ll groom me but neither one of us will groom that guy over there because we don’t like him,” right, they have these bands and cohorts and alliances.
Humans have badges, we have roles, we have statuses, that are not reducible to dominance, right. The only role differences in a chimpanzee band is “I’m the alpha, you’re omega, watch out,” right, or whatever. It’s dominance. We have lawyers, priests, professors, husbands, wives, teachers, students. We have these roles that are abstract, that you can move into and out of, and that remain the same, even as people move in and out of them.
So my contention, and I think in that separate paper, and Jonathan and I, in our chapter that was just published, argue that that way of dealing with the world, co-creating a reality, that depends on some level of intuitive thinking. Why? Because you have to accept that it’s true before it even happens, right. If you say “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” and I say “yeah, prove it,” well, at some level, if everybody says “yeah, prove it,” it’s not going to be true. You have to have a certain level of acceptance.