The Power of Thinking

For most of us, thinking is somewhat unpleasant; we try to avoid it whenever it is possible.  For example, if I ask you a difficult question and you get it wrong then most of you will not check it back. And the reason is ‘thinking’ itself is an uncomfortable process. It takes effort.

Now, as a third person, seeing all these questionnaires, it might be easy to put these mistakes down to stupidity and believe that you were much smarter and you will never fall into such traps. But then, you might be fooling yourself. And these examples reveal the blind spots in all of our thinking due to the fundamental way our brains work.

Information is all around us. Nowadays, there are so many methods from where you could acquire information like smartphones, mobile devices, and internet. But having an idea or knowledge is far more different than having information. Having an idea or acquiring knowledge means you use the information to change the way you think. Many people think that our brain is some kind of supercomputer like the ultimate calculating engine. It is supposed to be extremely fast, super connected and highly accurate.

When you have something on your mind like a picture or an image, you can visualise it very sharply and precisely and switch it with other images very easily much faster than a computer.  But it is not always like that. Brain cells are much slower and can only do only 500 operations per second where a computer can perform more than 3.4 billion times faster than the brain cells. Computers don’t do any mistakes; the rough estimation of making mistake is one error in a trillion operations but comparatively, brains are much more error-prone. In computers, you can plug into the internet and you are connected to the world contrary to the brain. So, from this perspective, you might say that our brain is lame and lousy. But still, each of us has the power to outperform every computer system by just a simple experiment.

So, what you see in the figure? A tiny vegetable face right!

Or I could just say a collection of vegetables but your first thought might be you see a face. And the most interesting part is not that you recognise the facial pattern, but how fast you do that. Because when your brain cells are that slow, you can only do 30-40 operations within that split second. Surprisingly, computer software needs many more steps, thousands and even millions of steps to come to that same result. And this simple experiment leads us to the fundamental principle of how we think.

When an external input hits our eyes it gets processed by sensory cells which gets activated and that further activates the neural network. The brain doesn’t distinguish between processing and output because processing the information is ‘the thought’ itself. The thought is how the brain cells interact and how they process information. And that is very different from a computer because no matter what kind of processing the computer uses whether it is algorithmic, deep learning network or whatever method we will come up in the future, it will always be input, processing, and output without mistakes. But if you don’t do any mistakes you just end up at the place you are programmed for, but nowhere new.

Computers are intelligent, but intelligence is nothing special. Intelligence means you follow the rules as fast and efficiently as possible but not to change rules. No super intelligent computer can ever rule the world because intelligence is not enough; you need to be a rule breaker and a game changer to do that.  And it’s a mistake in our thinking, not the perfection that separates us from non-creative machines. And by mistake, I mean we can come up with a new thought, a new activity pattern without knowing before whether this is correct or not. There’s no any objective criterion for a good idea.

Nowadays, it is so easy to be surrounded by convenient but non-inspiring opinions. In fact, we don’t like other opinions. We use media like internet, TV, radio to confirm our beliefs but never to challenge them, but by doing so we create echo chambers and filter bubbles around us.  In order to spark new ideas, we should do the opposite. We should provoke ourselves from time to time. Read something you disagree with, have a productive argument with a friend. Try to see things from the other side. Try to challenge your opinions and ideas instead of confirming them.  Try to break the thinking rule instead of following them.

So, what will be the next great idea that is worth spreading? We don’t know yet. But it is pretty sure that it will be created by brains, not because we are smarter faster or more intelligent than machines but the opposite. We are slower, irrational and imperfect. That’s why we understand the world instead of analysing it and that is what makes us human.

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