How to interrupt the autopilot system


Daniel Khaneman passed away last month. He was the Nobel Prize Winner who wrote the book Thinking, Fast And Slow.

In his book, he shows how the brain effectively has two systems: the autopilot and the evaluator.

The autopilot system just knows things and so doesn’t ever double-check. Like how you just know not to put your cup on a slanted surface unless you want it to fall and smash.

This is a super efficient way for the brain to save time and calories. Imagine having to rethink door-opening every time you need to open a door.

The autopilot system is the one that says 4 when someone asks what 2 + 2 is. You don’t think about it. The answer is just there.

The evaluator is the one that steps in when you ask what is 13 x 27.

Yet some of the “knowledge” held in the autopilot system isn’t necessarily up to date.

Suppose I learned as a child that crying would mean I’d be beaten. That old knowledge may still be running on autopilot, even if it’s no longer true. So I would refuse to cry, even when I needed to.

A key step of memory reconsolidation is to surprise the autopilot system.

When we do, its old knowledge is no longer taken for granted. It is forced to double-check. We do this using something called “mismatch experiences”.

In this moment of surprise and confusion, brain pathways become unlocked for rewrite. The brain is now ready to allow new information to replace the old. This is how trauma response removal is possible.

The autopilot system runs on autopilot until it has a reason not to. Mismatch experiences that break old predictions are that reason.

Would you like to learn how?

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