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|The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking
A book review by David Ludden of Don’t Believe Everything You Think by Thomas Kida.
The first error is that we prefer stories to statistics.
For example car shopping. Although Consumer Reports magazine rates the car you are considering as very reliable, a colleague of yours owns that model and complains that it has been nothing but trouble. Would you still buy the car? In general, people trust unique personal experiences over “impersonal” data, even though the statistics represent the aggregated experiences of many people.
The second error is that we seek to confirm rather than question our beliefs.
Furthermore, we are more likely to remember evidence that supports our beliefs rather than evidence that does not. This confirmation bias leads to stereotypes and prejudices as well as to pseudoscientific thinking. For example, if you believe in moon madness, you will notice the occasional crazy driver on a moonlit night without noticing all the other drivers (including yourself) that are driving normally.
The third error involves a general misunderstanding of the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events.
Few people understand how to calculate the probabilities of events, and so people generally rely on intuitions developed from personal experience. This leads to cognitive errors such as the gambler’s fallacy, in which people believe, for example, that tails is “due” after a run of heads, and the hot-hand fallacy, in which people believe that a basketball player who makes several shots in a row will likely continue making shots. Neither belief is true, and they are logically contradictory as well, but both beliefs are commonly held.
The fourth error is we sometimes misperceive the world around us by trusting the reliability of our senses.
"I know what I saw" is a common assertion, but in fact we never know for sure that our senses are accurately reporting what is going on around us. This is because perception is a reconstruction by the brain of the external world based on limited sensory inputs, and as such is subject to error. Not only is our perception influenced by our expectations, hallucinations are far more common than people think and are not just the product of drug abuse or psychosis.
The fifth error is that we have a tendency to oversimplify our thinking.
The heuristics we use to guide our thought processes help us prevent information overload and let us make decisions in a timely manner. However, these mental shortcuts can also lead us widely astray and leave us vulnerable to deception by those who wish to manipulate us.
Finally, the sixth error is we need to be aware that our memories are faulty and often inaccurate.
We all know that we forget things sometimes, but we generally assume that what we do remember is an accurate representation of past events. However, a vast program of memory research has shown that human memory is exceedingly unreliable. The average person views memory as a type of video recording, but in fact it is a reconstruction based on current beliefs and expectations as well as the suggestions of others. Over-reliance on memory recall has serious consequences. For instance, the criminal justice system still places inordinate weight on eyewitness testimony in spite of all the evidence showing how unreliable it is.
To overcome these weaknesses first, we need to be aware of our biases so that we can anticipate when we are likely to fall victim to them. Second, we need to take a skeptical approach in all aspects of life.
Although our beliefs may comfort us, we must learn to accept how much we don’t know.
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*6 Basic Mistakes
*7 Rules Thinking Skills
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