mushrooms in the grass

Metacognition and Decision Making

Forgive me for having a little fun in today’s post, but I had an interesting metacognitive experience this morning coming to work that I wanted to share. It is directly relevant to my previous post on the debate between Gerd Gigerenzer and behavioral economists on the System 1 / System 2 model. So here goes.

I was walking down the street and this is what my metacognitive experience felt like:

System 1 (relying on pattern recognition): “In our peripheral vision I see something that looks like a pile of popcorn in the grass. That’s odd. We should check it out.”
System 2 (bringing attention and deeper schema to bear): “That does look like popcorn. But it is seems to be a kind of mushroom we have never seen before. Not important enough to bother with. Keep going.”

Five minutes go by . . .

System 1: “In our peripheral vision I see something that looks like a pile of popcorn in the grass. That’s odd. We should check it out.”
System 2 (with a little less attention this time): “You numbskull! That is just those mushrooms again. Your pattern recognition system learns so slowly. Don’t bother me with such trivial stuff.”

Five more minutes go by . . .

System 1: “In our peripheral vision I see something that looks like a pile of popcorn in the grass. That’s odd. We should check it out.”
System 2 (relying on episodic memory this time): “You idiot. This is the third time we’ve seen those mushrooms. Haven’t you learned the pattern yet? I am not even going to look this time”
System 3 (curiosity and risk management): “Hey System 2, you think your episodic memory is so smart. This is a new thing for us. Maybe we should look anyway just to be sure. You never really know . . .”
System 2: “OK, you made me look. It is the mushrooms again. What a waste of time!”
System 3: “Yeah, but it was best just to be sure. It is a curious looking thing. And new to all three of us.”

OK – now knock down my metacognition straw man. Does this reflect what you think really happens in any way?

Image credit: “Mushrooms in the grass” by J.smith used under CC BY-SA 3.0

2 thoughts on “Metacognition and Decision Making”

  1. John Flach
    Professor of Psychology at Wright State University

    I both like and hate this example. On the one hand, it illustrates the dynamic of an abductive logic, where hypotheses both shape what we see and are in turn shaped by what we see. This is Piaget’s dynamic of assimilation/accommodation and it reflects the fact that our hypotheses/schema (based on the past) are always tentative, because the world is not stationary (the past is not always the best model for the future). What I hate is the use of the agent metaphors. Now we have three homunculi in the head to explain. By breaking it into multiple agents, I believe you BREAK the dynamic in ways that make it very difficult to assemble the pieces back into a meaningful understanding of the abductive dynamic.

    The question is not what’s happening in the head? The question is how does the perception-action dynamic adapt (or learn) to see the changing world in a way that leads to satisfactory/successful interactions. When and how are hypotheses ‘tested’ and what are the criteria for holding or folding on a current belief (or system of beliefs)?

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