What You See Isn’t Always All There Is

what you see
Look deeper to understand how your brain makes decisions


Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote a best-seller not that long ago titled “Thinking, Fast and Slow“, in which he referenced the acronym WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) to describe how we generally perceive our world.

WYSIATI is generally the depth or lack of depth at which our brain processes the world; whatever it knows, sees, feels, thinks, perceives in the moment seems to it to be all there is. WYSIATI represents the responsive, reactive and even effective part of our brain, our fast-thinking (or System 1) brain that enables our efficiency and, not infrequently, our survival.

Two Types of Brains

Your fast-thinking brain is very useful, because it can recognize if someone is coming at you with a frying pan to serve you an egg or to whack you in the head.

Sure, our fast-thinking brain references stereotypes of people and situations, but it’s generally in ways to enable our efficiency. If we see the stereotype of a person carrying a baseball bat while wearing cleats and a baseball cap, we perceive them differently compared with seeing that person in a parking garage wearing a hoodie and jeans.

Frequently, these stereotypes are useful because they allow you to recognize and respond quickly, before you even think about it, and go about your day.

The good news is that they are generally correct. Without them, you would frequently be leery of every person with a frying pan, even as you smell the eggs. In the reality of our busy lives, which are full of complex signals, we need our fast-thinking brain for most things, even though it often lacks accuracy and we trade off depth for efficiency. So, hurrah for the fast-thinking brain!

But, before we cheer too loudly, let’s not forget that it is the slow-thinking brain that enables much of our success.

Our slow-thinking brain is what enables us to analyze complex information and signals, and learn to apply them. The slow thinking brain is often the seat for our emotional intelligence and our rational decision making.

Generally, most of us need to tap into this much more to better level the playing field between fast and slow thinking.

The Effect of Emotions

Our brains are fascinatingly complicated machines. Our experiences, moods, frame of reference and much more affect how we see and how we react to the world.

If you are reading this article after watching a frightening news story, odds are you responded more negatively to the reference of a person carrying a baseball bat wearing a hoodie in a parking garage. But if you had just finished watching a comedy, you might have thought the image of the person with the frying pan and the egg about to whack someone was kind of funny.

It is never simple or easy to understand the complexity of the human mind, but with effort we can do better.

Next page: What you can do


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