Rory Sutherland (in his Spectator column) asked why water has no taste. He explains that from an evolutionary perspective, our taste buds have been calibrated over the millennia so that we can sense any variation from pure water.
Defensively, it’s far better to quickly say, “ick” and stop drinking than to have your water taste like Dr. Pepper and mask any foul stuff. Our perception of the taste of water has evolved to NOT drink the pieces of rotting carcass 100 yards up stream. Evolution has already done the dirty work so you don’t have to think about it.
But if our taste buds are calibrated to “zero” around the taste of water – what else have we evolved in a similar way? Effectively EVERYTHING.
Your attention is a threat detection machine. Safety first, pleasure second, and function is an afterthought (function here meaning the taste of water, or anything else that is uninteresting and therefore unimportant in its purist form).
All marketing is based on this understanding. Your automatic (System 1) instincts can easily be hijacked by deviations from normal. The more Dr. Pepper something tastes, the better it will be at getting your attention. Your logical (System 2) reasoning will usually just agree with that your instinct suggests.
In other words, we’re helpless unless we stop and ask, “compared to what?” Not to kill the fun in your life, but to understand – especially when it’s important – why our instincts are being guided in the way that they are.
We can notice function and separate it from the deviations if we are aware enough to slow ourselves down. To be clear, in most of life this isn’t completely necessary. Your intuitions aren’t all bad (hopefully). However, understanding why something is interesting to us, or how we can make something interesting to someone else has profound value, ethically AND monetarily.
It all starts with how the automatic “what’s” are calibrated. You can be attentional and intentional once you understand the speed at which information will be analyzed.