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You Are Not So Smart

David McRaney

Your brain hates ambiguity and is willing to take shortcuts to remove it, using whatever's available. When pattern recognition fails, you create patterns of your own.

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Emotional part of brain can't be directly observed or monitored. The output is mostly intuition and feeling. You think your rational mind is running things, but you are oblivious to your (emotional) unconscious brain.

When you watch a movie that is 'based on a true story' you do't expect it to be word-for-word truth. You know that it will take artistic license with the facts, shaping them into a coherent story with a beginning, middle and end. You should, but you don't, understand the stories coming out of your own mind in the same way. Confabulation fills in the gaps that aren't remembered.

Studies of split-brain patients and those with various mind defects from mini strokes etc make up stories on the spot to explain things they're doing. They are completely happy with the confabulations, even though to an outside observer they are complete nonsense.

Texas sharpshooter fallacy. (Shoot bullets at barn wall then paint bullseye targets around the holes afterward) Nostradamus quote from early 1500's:

Beast wild with hunger will cross the rivers
The greater part of the battle will be against Hister
He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron
When the son of Germany obeys no law.

Wow! sounds just like WW2, doesn't it. After all Hister sounds like Hitler, and last half could be about war machines. But seems less eerie when you find that Hister was Latin name for Danube, and Nostradamus was describing the Hun invasions of a thousand years before.

Studies of plane crashes often show Normalcy bias - in chaotic situation people just shut down and hope that normal situation will be restored. The people who escape are the ones who've prepared for the worst and imagined what they'd do. Normalcy bias is the mind trying to assuage extreme anxiety by making believe that everything is OK.

Sometimes introspection is harmful; you can be better off distracting yourself if you are depressed etc. If you think too much about why you like a painting you'll probably choose one you'll be dissatisfied with later, but if you go with first hunch you'll keep it. When you have to try to justify your feelings about something you start worrying about what it says about you as a person, and you start editing your reaction.

Availability heuristic. (A heuristic is basically any mental shortcut that we use to make judgements.) When you buy a lottery ticket, it's easier to imagine winning because the publicity for winners, but no-one interviews losers. You are far more likely to die in a car crash on your way to buying the ticket than you are of winning, but this info is not available to you.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect was explained by Bertrand Russell "In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt." Makes 'America's Got Talent' and 'American Idol' possible - so many people believe that because their local group or even just family, think they're talented, it means they are. Your peers don't correct yr ignorance, partly because they know as little as you, and they don't want to hurt yr feelings. The less you know about a subject, the less you believe there is to know in total. Education is as much about learning what you don't know as it is about adding to what you do know.

Nearly 7 billion people means a lot of opportunity for fluke coincidences. Average person is alert for about 8 hours a day, and something happens to the average person abt once a second. At that rate you will experience one million events every 35 days. So when you say the chances od something happening are 1 in a million, that means you shd expect it abt once a month. (This monthly miracle is called Littlewood's Law).

Apple computer ads don't tell you how good the computer is, they ell you what sort of people buy Apple computers, encouraging you to identify with them.

There are tested ways of overcoming groupthink. The boss is not allowed to express his preferences, stopping his opinion becoming the opinion of everybody. Break group into pairs every so often, to foster a manageable level of dissent. Get outsiders to come in and give their opinion. have a designated devil's advocate whose job it is to find fault with plan. Then allow a cooling off period to let emotions calm down.

e are totally self-delusional. When things are going well, it's bc we're great people. When going badly it's the world's fault. And passing time makes it worse. All those dumb things you did when you were young? That wasn't you, it was 'a former self.' We firmly believe that, in comparison with our friends, family and the rest of the world, we are smarter, more competent, more ethical, kinder, less prejudiced, younger-looking and better drivers. The things affecting you are always more significant than things happening to other people, so you believe that you're unique, and you look for ways to confirm that.

Your opinions are based on facts, whereas others are taken in by propaganda and lies. People are really stupid, but you can see right through the lies. See this effect when religious leaders campaign against something "because it might affect impressionable minds". Other people drive dangerously by texting, but when you do it it's because it might be an urgent message.

We don't store memories like a movie. We reassemble everything on the fly based not just on what we recall but also what we are seeing and feeling at present time. Example of guy who became colour blind after a stroke. All his memories became drained of colour - he no longer rem cars or dresses being coloured, even though he originally saw them that way.

People associate being warm (warm room, holding hot drink, or even imagining a warm fire or cosy sweater) with positive emotions.

Prefer certain letters A more than B is obvious, but also M rather than Q.

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