In Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman uses the shorthand descriptors “System 1” and “System 2” to stand for an automatic system of thinking and an effortful system of thinking respectively. System 1 operates quickly and automatically and is generally “in charge” of our brains under ordinary circumstances and System 1 cannot be turned off. System 2 swings into operation when matters require careful attention say when searching a crowded room for a particular person, or dividing a dinner tab among several diners or constructing a logical argument. System 2, according to Kahneman, is lazy. Using System 2 takes real energy-sapping effort. Kahneman’s simplified construct for modes of thinking allows him (and his readers) to more easily understand many aspects of human decision making.
So what good is a college education – any college education. Using Daniel Kahneman’s paradigm, I would say that college graduates have improved System 2 thinking. They have become used to effortful, hard, and careful thinking. That is why they are valued by society and the working world. I have always wondered why our current social goal of increasing the number of college graduates never seemed to address the quality of such education. I think now that the habit of effortful attention is a product of most college educations and this somewhat justifies society’s emphasis on a degree.