Sunday, 18 June 2017

Book Review: You are Not So Smart

I recently read a 2011 book by David McRaney, "You are Not So Smart". The book has 48 short chapters, each of which is devoted to a different cognitive bias, heuristic, or logical fallacy, all of which demonstrates how all of us are not so smart. As McRaney puts it in the introduction:
These are components of your mind, like organs in your body, which under the best conditions serve you well. Life, unfortunately, isn't always lived under the best conditions. Their predictability and dependability have kept confidence men, magicians, advertisers, psychics, and peddlers of all manner of pseudoscientific remedies in business for centuries. It wasn't until psychology applied rigorous scientific method to human behavior that these self-deceptions became categorized and quantified...
You will soon realize you are not so smart, and thanks to a plethora of cognitive biases, faulty heuristics, and common fallacies of thought, you are probably deluding yourself minute by minute just to cope with reality.
Many of the heuristics and biases are ones that I cover in the behavioural economics topic in my ECON110 class, such as framing, the Dunning-Kruger effect, procrastination and present bias. All are supported by appropriate citations to research and interesting anecdotes. And some of the bits are priceless, such as this (on introspection):
Is there a certain song you love, or a photograph? Perhaps there is a movie you keep returning to over the years or a book. Go ahead and imagine one of those favorite things. Now, in one sentence, try to explain why you like it. Chances are, you will find it difficult to put into words, but if pressed you will probably be able to come up with something.
The problem is, according to research, your explanation is probably going to be total bullshit.
The only problem with this book is that, while it presents a lot of problems with our cognitive processes, it is very light on solutions. And when solutions are presented, they can sometimes be inconsistent. For instance, the solution to normalcy bias (where you pretend everything is normal, even in the wake of a major crisis) is repetition of warnings. However, in the next paragraph McRaney points out the cases of Y2K, swine flu, and SARS, where media over-hyping has led people to become complacent!

Overall, I found this book to be an easy and interesting read, and recommended for anyone who wants to understand why we are not so smart. If you're looking for more, McRaney has a website/blog, and a follow-up book, "You are Now Less Dumb", which I look forward to reviewing in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment