Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a couple weeks ago about mental caching, the cognitive process by which the brain tries to make decisions when processing power is at a premium. Consider that neurons operate at about 200Hz. Add in in the “hundred-step rule” (“anything a biological brain does in real time can require no more than one hundred serial computational steps” cite) and Yudkowsky drops the processing speed down to 100Hz.

Can you imagine having to program using 100Hz CPUs, no matter how many of them you had? You’d also need a hundred billion processors just to get anything done in realtime. If you did need to write realtime programs for a hundred billion 100Hz processors, one trick you’d use as heavily as possible is caching. That’s when you store the results of previous operations and look them up next time, instead of recomputing them from scratch. And it’s a very neural idiom - recognition, association, completing the pattern. It’s a good guess that the actual majority of human cognition consists of cache lookups.

Okay, I can buy that. It certainly explains much of the cause of biased thinking and the motivation for heuristics. There’s surely an evolutionary cost-benefit trade off for having quick decision strategies at hand even if they’re not always right. Does this, I wonder, do anything to explain the use of jargon, whether technical or nonsensical (e.g. business).

But the flip side of this is that I continually see people who aspire to critical thinking, repeating back cached thoughts which were not invented by critical thinkers.

Unfortunately I don’t see too many people in business who aspire to critical thinking. Repeating cached thoughts invented by non-critical thinkers? That much is true.