Existence & Phenomenological Experiences

How you live?

How much from your life is on the Autopilot?

A disruptive question that I usually ask to shake the peaceful equilibrium deep inside. This is because, in fact, your life, well, could be run on the autopilot most of the time.

Let me first attempt to put a definition first. A life run on auto-pilot is a life lived reactively. Except for the deliberate thinking activities you may be doing in your job, you live your life always responding to life’s situations; without deliberate thought. Typical examples of auto-pilot affairs are like culture, norms, social beliefs…etc. While having some of your actions/thoughts automated is something good for living efficiently, the other side of the same coin is drastic – actions and decisions taken reactively are prone to mistakes and regrets.

Auto-pilot living is not a fiction nor what I am warning you of above is something metaphorical. It’s now something we could tract and prove scientifically. Neuroscience has made a feat in increasing our understanding of our mental lives. Consider the below figure and answer the following question:




Which line is longer?

You most certainly answered that the top one is longer than the bottom one. If you got a ruler and measured both lines, you would find that both lines are of exact same length. Worse, even after you have measured it with the ruler and confirmed that they are of equal length, your feeling will keep telling you that the top one is really longer.

We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness. ~ Daniel Kahneman

This is an example for auto-pilot living. You live judging things and observing them without invoking much thought; without using the parts in your brain responsible for in-depth analysis of things. You snap judge things reactively and through appearances. This is my true friend, this is my true love, this is my true job; you auto-pilot these choices and your feeling of their truth is just as real as you felt the top line in the above figure is really longer. Welcome to the world of Illusions, that only shows us how flawed our ability to engage our true faculty of mind into reasoning about things. The above figure is called Muller Illusion; and it (among many other  illusions) demonstrates the conflict between two divisions in your brain, psychologists call System 1 and System 2; with System 1 being responsible for making impressions, feelings, and automated responses while System 2 being responsible for in-depth analysis and reasoning. In the basic sense, System 1 handles running your basic daily operations; however, System 2 takes over when deliberate mental effort is engaged like when you are solving mathematical problem or taking an exam or analyzing a situation in-depth.

This is no offense for System 1. Without it, after all, our lives would be like hell; and without it, failure is inevitable. The harmony of interplay with the in-depth System 2 is also a mark of success. However, the problem lies when affairs of your life are not handled by the right system; that is, when the switch doesn’t happen and you live always with System 1 that lacks in-depth analysis of things when you need one. At that time, you would see falseness in reality and swear of it – like you would swear that the top line is longer; and like you would swear that this is your best friend or true person to you.

Knowing you have two competing systems in your mental life and their purposes is a leap in understanding more about how you mentally take in things. It takes just a deliberate will to do the switch and you engage System2 as it should in conducting your life affairs. And it’s not about wrong decisions. If you weigh up things with your System2 and decide that this wrong decision is what you want; then, be it. The most important thing is that you are mentally engaged as the matter calls for and that you are true to yourself accordingly.

How much do you live on auto-pilot? That’s my question to you that when you ask yourself you will be no longer on auto-pilot.

2 thoughts on “How you live?

  1. Great text. Indeed it is easy to live in auto-pilot… so many people keep living like that all the time. I believe we need the auto-pilot mode to relax in between many analysis using System 2! cheers

    1. You are absolutely correct. Life would be a nightmare without System 1; in fact, non-survivable. Without System1, we won’t be able to navigate our territories and act timely to surroundings (including a rival posing risk on our lives). The distinction between System 1 and System 2 just needs to be acknowledges so that you don’t get fooled in using System 1 while you should be using System 2 – what’s called Mental Illusion. Just watch the two systems inside you; and be there when you should do the deliberate switch.

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