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Thinking is hard...

         Willingham’s (2009) observation on the quality of the human mind, although shocking and deliberately provocative, does have substantial basis in scientific literature, especially in the field of cognitive psychology and information-processing theory. Willingham, an eminent psychologist in his own right and the resident Cognitive Scientist for the widely-read American Educator magazine, draws on the work of yet another eminent cognitive scientist, Allan Baddeley, whose monumental research on long and short-term memory demonstrates the differences in speed and effort of activating memory as opposed to performing executive processing, or what we term as “Thinking” (Baddeley, 2003). Willingham notes that because “thinking is not only effortful, it's also slow and unreliable (2009, p.4),” the tendency is that humans rely primarily on memory based on knowledge, concrete examples or experiences, and the avoidance of thinking is perhaps more fundamental than the application of thinking. More recent studies building on Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) such as Phillips (2015) supports Willingham’s thesis that thinking is effortful and in fact, strenuous. Phillips’ (2015) study showed that Close Reading, which is a deep and conscious thinking process which accompanies the reading of a text, activates diverse regions of the brain, including the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain which allows us to detect touch and our body’ position in a space, and the motor cortex, the part of the brain which allows us to control and execute physical movements. On the other hand, Casual Reading, which is a primarily shallow thinking process, activates a much narrower region in the brain, triggering mainly parts of the temporal lobes which are responsible for language processing (Phillips, 2015).

         Another recent work by the Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel-winning economist, Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, provides evidence that conscious Thinking, also known as System 2 Decision-making process, is slow, effortful and infrequent (Kahneman, 2012). This process is in direct opposition to System 1 Decision-making, which is based on emotions and instincts, and is seemingly effortless and fast (Kahneman, 2012). The brain, seeking the easiest route, thus makes multiple errors of judgement in daily life in the absence of sound, evidential and well-reasoned thinking (Kahneman, 2012). Furthermore, the fundamental notion that the human mind is essentially lazy is further illustrated by another recent experiment on the brain’s preference to expend as little energy as possible (Cheval, Tipura, Burra, Frossard, Chanal, Orsholits, Radel, & Boisgontier 2018). Measuring neural activity using an electroencephalograph (EEG), the researchers demonstrated that the brain is essentially hardwired towards laziness, as the participants’ brains avoided physical activity images faster than sedentary images, even though they were knowledgeable about the benefits of exercise and they had willed themselves to participate in physical activities (Cheval et al., 2018). 




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