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Mike Swetnam

What’s the big difference between humans and other species of living things?

Some contend that what makes us different is our ability to think in abstract, innovative, and creative ways; the fact that we can imagine a different reality and discover ways to create that reality. No other living thing yet discovered does this. Dolphins and elephants are as smart as us but don't create technology capable of changing their world. We do.

This higher order of thinking/intelligence (the wisdom thing) is what is important, critical, and distinguishes us from everything else. We dream and then have the ability to make our dreams come true. We are driven to change and control our world. Is this our soul? That intangible 'thing' that sets us apart?

At the Potomac Institute we have started calling this System III thinking as a takeoff or expansion of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow paradigm. Kahneman describes System I thinking, thinking fast, as the reactionary response humans have to a set of conditions. The response requires little thought and helps us deal with situations that require rapid response. Most animals demonstrate System I thinking. System II thinking, thinking slowly, is the methodical, contemplative thought process where humans consider the arguments before responding. Many scientists believe that primates and a few other species demonstrate System II thinking.

Those of us in the Center for Revolutionary Science Thought (CReST) at the Institute have started describing something we call System III thinking. The process where we dream and imagine a world or situation broader than the analytical thinking of System II. This seems to be a uniquely human characteristic and something that makes our species have a special place in the world.