October 2, 2014

‘You Are Not So Smart’

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of the excellent brainpickings.org, I read a glib little book called ‘You Are Not So Smart‘ (by David McRaney, based on his blog of the same name). Despite his over-reliance on Kahneman & Tversky’s important research, I found it convincing and pretty well documented with psych studies and experiments. It’s written, however, kind of like a website. So in case you’re curious, and also to remind myself of these points as I go through my day, I summarized and paraphrased the point of each of its 48 short chapters.

General thesis: you are just as deluded as everyone else, which paradoxically keeps you ‘sane.’

Here are my paraphrases of the various ways (there were 1 per chapter) you are deluded or ‘not so smart’ as you think you are.

-you are unaware of how you’re influenced by your unconscious and your environment
-you don’t know when you’re making up narrative fantasies or rationalizing about yourself
-your opinions are mostly irrational and biased, and only selectively fact-based
-your mistakes become invisible to you in hindsight
-you underestimate randomness
-you overestimate your willpower and underestimate the power of your unconscious impulses
-you ignore crises and catastrophes, reverting to habitual normality (becoming paralyzed)
-you don’t understand the sources of your own taste
-you think mostly in examples and stories, not statistics
-you are less likely to help someone when more people are around
-you are bad at estimating your own competence
-you invent meanings for coincidences
-your property becomes an extension of your ego once you’ve acquired it
-you are over-affected by the status of speakers as opposed to their arguments
-the fewer facts you know, the more likely you are to accept bizarre explanations
-you distort the positions of those who disagree with you
-you mistake messengers and messages
-you tend to assume existing outcomes are just
-you fantasize ‘natural’ states in which rules are unnecessary
-your negotiation positions are based more on your status than on any actual value
-you overestimate your uniqueness
-you underestimate your susceptibility to cults
-you overestimate your independence of thought
-you are easier to manipulate than you think
-you mis-measure risk, and over-value first impressions
-functional groups max out at around 150 people
-your supposed ‘non-conformity’ and status-seeking is the main fuel of consumerism
-you overestimate your skills and success
-you overestimate your importance to others
-you incorrectly think people who disagree with you are more deluded than you are
-you think venting anger helps dissipate it, but it doesn’t
-your memories are totally unreliable and change over time
-you have a strong instinct to conform
-your habits fight back
-in any team situation you will exert less effort than you will when alone
-you overestimate how well people can read you
-you learn helplessness as a way of conserving energy
-your physical setting strongly influences your perception of events and people
-the first information you get skews your subsequent decision-making
-your default perception is tunnel vision
-you will often handicap yourself to protect your self-esteem should you fail
-your future can be greatly affected by what your social group predicts it will be
-you are at least two selves, the current one and the remembering one
-you incorrectly imagine your past self had the same mental world as your present self
-you make predictions about people based on your internalized stereotypes of them
-your expectations greatly influence your perceptions and judgment
-you often imagine you have control over situations too random or complex to predict
-you overestimate people’s personalities and underestimate their situations when explaining their behavior

Keep these points, all supported to various extents by scientific research, in mind the next time you feel super-sure of yourself. I know I will try to.


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