WYSIATI Zoom-Out

What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)

Have you ever made a judgement of a person, situation or thing only to discover more information later that totally overturned your prior judgement? In other words, you jumped to a conclusion based on the information available at the time, forming one or more perspectives, only to later revise them radically when new information came to light? If so, this Zoom-Out is here to help.

WHAT IS IT?

This Zoom-Out comes from Daniel Kahneman as described in the classic book “Thinking, Fast & Slow”. Kahneman adopts a model of the mind, or modes of thinking, expressed as two systems:

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

Daniel Kahneman – “Thinking, Fast & Slow”

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

Daniel Kahneman – “Thinking, Fast & Slow”

System 2 is the only one that can follow rules, compare objects on several attributes, and make deliberate choices between options. The automatic System 1 does not have these capabilities. System 1 detects simple relations (“they are all alike,” “the son is much taller than the father”) and excels at integrating information about one thing, but it does not deal with multiple distinct topics at once, nor is it adept at using purely statistical information.

Daniel Kahneman – “Thinking, Fast & Slow”

System 1 is fast and automatic and so often gets in there first before System 2 has a chance to be activated.

System 2 is slower and takes effort but can overrule System 1 at times.

When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book. I describe System 1 as effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps. I also describe circumstances in which System 2 takes over, overruling the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1. You will be invited to think of the two systems as agents with their individual abilities, limitations, and functions.

Daniel Kahneman – “Thinking, Fast & Slow”

From a Zoom-Out context, System 1 is a key source of our “Default perspectives” the ones that automatically arise in any given moment. The key question is whether any such perspective is serving us well and so represents an opportunity to “Zoom-Out to find the most helpful perspective” (the Zoom-Out motto)

WYSIATI highlights the fact, one might say an obvious fact on reflection, that our mind tends to jump to conclusions based on a limited and/or corrupted set of information. It does not take into account information that is currently not available to it.

“An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist. System 1 excels at constructing the best possible story that incorporates ideas currently activated, but it does not (cannot) allow for information it does not have.”

Daniel Kahneman – “Thinking, Fast & Slow”

And goes on to add:

“The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.”

Daniel Kahneman – “Thinking, Fast & Slow”

Consider this example of WYSIATI in action from the book.

If a person is described to you as “Intelligent and strong” and then you are asked if this person would make a good leader, your mind will lead you quickly and effortlessly to the answer, yes! Your mind is selecting a good fit answer based on a very limited set of information. If that person is now also described as “corrupt and cruel” that is likely to change your answer.

A key point here is that you felt no discomfort with jumping to the conclusion that this person would be a good leader and felt no strong urge to abstain from jumping to a conclusion and make an effort to speak out more information before making a judgment.

In Zoom-Out terms, we can say that our minds quickly and effortlessly Zoomed-In on a conclusion, a perspective, and we felt no immediate urge or need to Zoom-Out, when clearly doing so would have had huge value.

Kahneman writes:

Take note of what you did not do as you briefly thought of Mindik as a leader. You did not start by asking, “What would I need to know before I formed an opinion about the quality of someone’s leadership?” System 1 got to work on its own from the first adjective: intelligent is good, intelligent and strong is very good. This is the best story that can be constructed from two adjectives, and System 1 delivered it with great cognitive ease. The story will be revised if new information comes in (such as Mindik is corrupt), but there is no waiting and no subjective discomfort. And there also remains a bias favoring the first impression.

SO WHAT?

In other words, System 1 will construct a default perspective based on the limited, and possibly corrupted, information that is currently available to it. It will Zoom-In rapidly and with ease. It is our choice ultimately, whether to accept this default perspective. Is this perspective serving you and others well? We may choose to Zoom-Out which is likely to require System 2 and therefore will involve effort on our part.

NOW WHAT?

Whenever you hold a perspective that is not serving you or others well, remember WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is! Seek out a broader perspective by obtaining more information.

The Zoom-Out in this case involves the following steps:

  1. See that our default perspective may be based on a limited set of information currently available to our mind’s System 1. Aka “All perspectives are wrong but some are helpful” – a Zoom-Out SIGNPOST
    Regardless of how compelling or “true” the perspective appears to us, this axiom still holds true.

  2. Assess whether this perspective is serving us and others well. And so determining if this represents an opportunity to “Zoom-Out to find the most helpful perspective” (the Zoom-Out motto).

  3. Zoom-Out by taking time and effort to bring more information to mind. Or information that is more accurate or has been validated in some way, e.g. fact-checked against evidence. This will no doubt engage System 2 in the process of Zooming-Out.