When we store our beliefs in our brains, when we learn skills, make decisions. There are two type of representations that abstractions can take. Explicit ideas, which can be articulated and implicit ideas that don't need to take such rigid forms.

In my System 1 and 2 post I explained how system 2 uses the explict representation while system 1 used implict representation, in this post I elaborate further what implicit and explicit really means.


Explicit is easier to understand, we are familiar with language it is explict. When you want to communicate ideas to someone else, you need to take your ideas and give it a explict form so that it can be transmitted.

So we use words to represent our ideas, we use words that have agreed upon meanings. The boundaries around these words are not that porous, it delineates concepts preventing conflation.

Explict representation is more objective, it is context independent. The burden of communication is less on the medium and more on how you construct the idea using a basis set of words. Art is a way to communicate implicitly and people can have widely different interpretations. Tonal cues, body language is all subjective and not as explict as a written letter which would be longer.

When we verbalize ideas or articulate it, our consciousness can no longer ignore it. It is hard to be subtle with explict speech while it is easy to come across as crude, vulgar or crass. It can also feel matter of fact, transactional, cold, logical, and unambigious when we use explicit speech.


We try to maintain self consistency so explict representation has its limitations. In terms of available working memory, there are constrains on size and therefore the complexity of the ideas that can be represented.

In case of a implict representation, they can be contradictory. Think of how you dream, how laws of physics no longer apply and logic becomes weak. We all hold many implicit beliefs which would cause cognitive dissonance if we had represented it explicitly.

To represent an idea explicitly, we need to perform abstraction - strip away details. It requires compression to find a general rule that is a approximation. This is why it is a kind of understanding. Implict ideas are more concrete, when you think about your skills at football or piano. You spent hundreds of hours practicing it and stored the knowledge implictly. So a lot of ideas just can't be represented in explicit form by most people.

Given any context you will quickly be able to pick what procedural action should be taken. But it is hard for you to generalize and explain what general rules you followed. There are often no simple rules that exist. You store these actions directly as a implicit representation.

Implicit beliefs are acted out and people pick these actions using system 1's instinct or intuition. In modern society, we are increasingly dealing with more abstract ideas which can't be acted out meaning explicit representations are being favored.

When others attack these beliefs, people respond with emotions, visceral gut reactions. While we are more aware of the explicit beliefs we hold and can defend them. We can also modify ideas, debate and discuss when they are explict.

Implicit ideas are modified by trial and error as people experience the environment, observe and act according to it. They also are formed when we imitate others, consume art, etc.

It requires a deep level of intimacy to communicate implicitly. It is very context dependent, subjective and varies across cultures. Small gestures of the hands, eyes, convey a lot of meaning. Explict communication would have needed a lot of words to capture this same meaning.