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Defaulting To Untrue


In our day to day thinking, our brains try to default things to true. We look for validation of beliefs, systems, ideas, etc... all the time. To Illustrate this point, examine the following statement. “Frederic Chopin, the Polish pianist/composer was born in 1810. He died in 1839. At the age of 29, he succumbed to consumption (Tuberculosis). He was a genius improviser and his music is still loved by many classical enthusiasts to this day.”

When you read that, did you question any of the information? The statements sounded reasonable, and to anyone that knows music history, it was mostly accurate. Mostly. Chopin actually died in 1849. He was 39 not 29 when he died. Okay, so what?

We tend to look for validation or truth in the world around us. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that it can get us into trouble sometimes. When statements are presented from a source that seems reasonable, our brain tries to validate the information as true. We don’t want to look for untruth. It’s easier.

Another example, to use is the evening news. When watching the news, how often do you go and dig up the sources, ask the questions like, “who, what, when, where, why”? Passively taking in information is way easier than looking for puzzles in places where they may not exist.


In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that our brains have two systems that operate. System one is reflexive and acts intuitively. System two is slow in thinking and more deliberate.

If we had to break these two systems down and turned them into a person, we could say that system one is a race car driver and system two is a chess player. Both activities require a high level of skill. Both require high amounts of energy and time to cultivate. The ways that drivers and chess players may learn their respective tasks may even be comparable or similar.

Yet, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that a race car driver must rely on split second, intuitive decisions to ensure he/she doesn’t crash. There simply isn’t enough time to deliberate or process information slowly when a car is traveling at speeds close to 200mph (Indy, Formula 1, & Nascar). System one is at play when a race car driver takes to the track. It’s intuitive, fast, and makes split second decisions.

We compared system two to a chess player. Don’t worry, I won’t spend a lot of time discussing chess strategies or ideas. But I want you to imagine for a moment that you are sitting at a chess board. “After both players move, 400 possible board setups exist. After the second pair of turns, there are 197,742 possible games, and after three moves, 121 million.” - Popular Science

Of course, no person can explore every option in a game or even think through every possible position. But the sheer volume of possibilities is why chess is such a thinking game. You have to navigate traps, set ups, pincer moves, flanks. Okay, okay, I said I wasn’t going to talk strategy. I hear you. A lot of players opt to play within a time restraint to prevent games from lasting to long. Bottom line, chess is a very cerebral game. It takes a lot of mental concentration and forethought to play it well.

This is system two. It’s slow and takes time to explore the possibilities. Once again, both chess and race car driving require a lot of time and skill to master, but both work very differently. System two is the system that we want to explore a little bit.


One of the most impressive things about Sherlock is his ability to default to system two continuously. I say continuously, but it’s more like his ability to fall into it naturally. It’s one of the reasons that he is so observant.

I imagine that everything he sees he defaults it to untrue. The value of doing this is it forces you to explore logically or semi logically why things are. In a way it turns you into a skeptic. Now, I’m not suggesting that you question everything you see or hear. “Honey, how was your day?”

Response - “Hmmm. Is this really my wife? Is she asking me this to hide something? What was my day?

No one should think this way by default. It’s unhealthy and a bit paranoid. What we want is a healthy balance between letting system one operate when it needs to and allowing system two to creep in from time to time. Then, when the time comes, we need system two to be in complete charge.



System two is rooted in things that require a lot of slow thinking. The challenge to this is not allowing impatience to get the better of you. What I mean by that is that regardless of what you are doing, system one always wants to be in control. We have to convince ourselves that we won’t be lazy mentally. So no matter what we are doing, we have to find a way to shift into system two.


Find a way to be present. When I say present, I mean, allow yourself to be in the moment. You can do this by just taking a moment to breath and take in your surroundings. Notice the way you feel, what you hear, see, and smell. Use all your senses to gather information. This should allow you to be present. Noticing these things also prevents system one from running unchecked.


Throw a wrench in your normal routine. System one operates really well in things that we know. But nothing breeds complacency like familiarity. That means that we have to find ways to shake up our routine. When we are exposed to situations and ideas that are unfamiliar, system two is forced to start priming itself. It needs to be present to document the new things that we are experiencing.

  • Try a new restaurant

  • Read a book or subject you are unfamiliar with

  • Try a new hobby or workout routine

  • Do a math problem


Ask questions by default and make time to answer them. One of the most powerful ways we can engage system two is to ask questions. Asking questions isn’t enough though, we need to answer the questions. This is where the real test of engaging system two comes into play. We need the willpower to follow through on any inquiry we make.

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