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In ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman argues that we too often rush to judgement using the reactive part of our brain, when we would be better to proceed more slowly using the rational part of the brain. Appreciating that I spend a lot of time recommending books, this one would be right up there near the top of the list, not least because in an age where so many decisions seem to be made without due thought and consideration it seems more important than ever that we focus on being more reflective.

This week at school has seen the latest round of my assemblies, when I have the chance to speak to all the pupils and try to share something vaguely interesting with them.  Last time we looked at facts and this time we moved on to ‘thunks’, specifically from ‘The Book of Thunks’ by Ian Gilbert.  The subtitle says: ‘Is not going fishing a hobby and other impossible questions to stretch your brain and annoy your friends’, which sums it up nicely.  It may not have the depth of Daniel Kahneman’s work, but it’s good fun and makes a similar point.

The introduction to ‘The Book of Thunks’ is written by Dr Andrew Curran, a consultant neurologist, who is well known to many educationalists for his work with cognitive development.  He says that neurobiological science has identified that we all carry our thoughts, our feelings, even the core features of our personalities as hard-wired patterns of nerve cells called templates.  These templates are accessible by triggering the correct neurochemicals, but to change a template requires commitment because the emotional part of our brains, the limbic system, controls not only learning but also attention.

He adds that ‘thunks’ are designed to mess with these templates, to move us out of our comfort zones and shake our complacency.  By rattling our thought routines, they are aimed to make us think about things differently, even to the point of being uncomfortable.  By staving off complacency, it may keep our brains working longer and more effectively, because routine and dullness are the enemies of alertness and progress.  Given that the best definition of learning I know is that of moving people to the edge of their comfort zones and then going further, you can see why this book is right up my street.

It comes with five simple instructions:

  1. Find a friend or family member
  2. Ask a Thunk
  3. Disagree with their answer
  4. Stand well back
  5. Repeat

There are three hundred ‘thunks’ in the book, but here are just twenty to start you off.  Enjoy!

  • Is a tree made of wood?
  • Is toast made of bread?
  • Does Homer Simpson exist?
  • Does time exist?
  • Does electricity weigh anything?
  • Does lined paper weigh more than blank paper?
  • Does a cup of tea weigh more when you add a spoonful of sugar?
  • Does the world weigh more when it’s raining?
  • If a robot waiter brings you a drink, should you say thank you?
  • If a bear is chasing you and your friend, should you just run faster than your friend?
  • Is driving ten miles per hour over the speed limit ten times worse than driving one mile per hour over it?
  • Could anyone prove you wrong if you claim that you can make traffic lights change from red to green just by staring at them?
  • Are we more alive than a tree?
  • Can a giraffe ever truly be happy?
  • Can we ever really know if we are more intelligent than a dolphin?
  • Are you sure your pets don’t talk about you when you leave the house?
  • If you gave a fish a million pounds, would it be rich?
  • If you paint a room, does the room become smaller?
  • Are there more colours than things?
  • Can a fact be right and wrong at the same time?

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