You Are Not So Smart

When confronted with dogma-threatening, worldview-menacing ideas, your knee-jerk response is usually to lash out and try to bat them away, but thanks to a nearly unavoidable mistake in reasoning, you often end up doing battle with arguments of your own creation.

Your lazy brain is always trying to make sense of the world on ever-simpler terms. Just as you wouldn’t use a topographical map to navigate your way to Wendy’s, you tend to navigate reality using a sort of Google Maps interpretation of events and ideas. It’s less accurate, sure, but much easier to understand when details aren’t a priority. But thanks to this heuristical habit, you sometimes create mental men of straw that stand in for the propositions put forth by people who see the world a bit differently than you. In addition to being easy to grasp, they are easy to knock down and hack apart, which wouldn’t be a problem if only you noticed the switcheroo.


This is the essence of the straw man fallacy, probably the most common of all logical fallacies. Setting up and knocking down straw men is so easy to do while arguing that you might not even notice that you are doing it.

In this episode, you’ll learn from three experts in logic and arguing why human brains tend not to realize they are constructing artificial versions of the arguments they wish to defeat. Once you’ve wrapped your mind around that idea, you’ll then learn how to spot the straw man fallacy, how to avoid committing it, and how to defend against it.

Direct download: 068_-_The_Strawman_Fallacy_.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 3:33pm EST

If you have ever been in an argument, you've likely committed a logical fallacy, and if you know how logical fallacies work, you've likely committed the fallacy fallacy.

Listen as three experts in logic and arguing explain just what a formal argument really is, and how to spot, avoid, and defend against the one logical fallacy that is most likely to turn you into an internet blowhard.

Direct download: 067_-_The_Fallacy_Fallacy.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:35pm EST

How strong is your bullshit detector? And what exactly IS the scientific definition of bullshit?

In this episode we explore what makes a person susceptible to bullshit, how to identify and defend against it, and what kind of people are the most and least likely to be bowled over by bullshit artists and other merchants of pseudo-profound, feel-good woo.

Direct download: 066_-_Bullshit_-_Gordon_Pennycook.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:40pm EST

Our guest in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is psychologist Laurie Santos who heads the Comparative Cognition Laboratory at Yale University. In that lab, she and her colleagues are exploring the fact that when two species share a relative on the evolutionary family tree, not only do they share similar physical features, but they also share similar behaviors. Psychologists and other scientists have used animals to study humans for a very long time, but Santos and her colleagues have taken it a step further by choosing to focus on a closer relation, the capuchin monkey; that way they could investigate subtler, more complex aspects of human decision making – like cognitive biases.

One of her most fascinating lines of research has come from training monkeys how to use money. That by itself is worthy of a jaw drop or two. Yes, monkeys can be taught how to trade tokens for food, and for years, Santos has observed capuchin monkeys attempting to solve the same sort of financial problems humans have attempted in prior experiments, and what Santos and others have discovered is pretty amazing. Monkeys and humans seem to be prone to the same biases, and when it comes to money, they make the same kinds of mistakes.

Direct download: 064_-_Monkey_Marketplace_-_Laurie_Santos_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:17pm EST

What effect does Google have on your brain? Here's an weirder question: what effect does knowing that you have access to Google have on your brain?

In this episode we explore what happens when a human mind becomes aware that it can instantly, on-command, at any time, search for the answer to any question, and then, most of time, find it.

According to researcher Matthew Fisher, one of the strange side effects is an inflated sense of internal knowledge. In other words, as we use search engines, over time we grow to mistakenly believe we know more than we actually do even when we no longer have access to the internet.

Direct download: 063_-_The_Search_Effect_-_Matthew_Fisher.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:48pm EST

In psychology, they call it naive realism, the tendency to believe that the other side is wrong simply because they are misinformed.

According to Lee Ross, co-author of the new book, The Wisest One in the Room, naive realism has three tenets. One, you tend to believe that you arrived at your political opinions after careful, rational analysis through unmediated thoughts and perceptions. Two, since you are extremely careful and devoted to sticking to the facts and thus free from bias and impervious to persuasion, anyone else who has read the things you have read or seen the things you have seen will naturally see things your way, given that they’ve pondered the matter as thoughtfully as you have. And three, if anyone does disagree with your political opinions it must be because they simply don’t have all the facts yet.

Since this is the default position most humans take when processing a political opinion, when confronted with people who disagree, you tend to assume there must be a rational explanation. Usually, that explanation is that the other side is either lazy or stupid or corrupted by some nefarious information-scrambling entity like cable news, a blowhard pundit, a charming pastor or a lack thereof.


Ross and Ward concluded that naive realism leads people to approach political arguments with the confidence that “rational open-minded discourse” will naturally lead to a rapid narrowing of disagreement, but that confidence usually short lived. Instead, they say our “repeated attempts at dialogue with those on the ‘other side’ of a contentious issue make us aware that they rarely yield to our attempts at enlightenment; nor do they yield to the efforts of articulate, fair-minded spokespersons who share our views.” In other words, it’s naive to think evidence presented from the sources you trust will sway your opponents because when they do the same, it never sways you.

Listen in this episode as legendary psychologist Lee Ross explains how to identify, avoid, and combat this most pernicious of cognitive mistakes.

Direct download: 062_-_Naive_Realism_-_Lee_Ross.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:28am EST

You have the power to wield neuroplasticity to your advantage.

Just as you can change your body at the atomic level by lifting weights, you can willfully alter your brain by...thinking in a certain way. In this episode we explore using your brain to change your brain at the level of neurons and synapses beyond what is possible through other methods like learning a new language or earning a degree in chemistry. With mindfulness meditation, the evidence seems to suggest that one can achieve a level of change that would be impossible otherwise. The more you attempt to focus, the better you get at focusing on command, and so a real change begins taking place - you slowly become able to think differently, to hold thoughts differently and to dismiss thoughts that before led to attention difficulties or what feels like unwanted thoughts or clutter - and that’s not magical or the result of shaking hands with a deity, it’s biological. Listen as author and meditation teacher Michael Taft explains the benefits of secular, scientific practice of modern mindfulness meditation

Direct download: 061_-_Mindfulness_-_Michael_Taft.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 10:49am EST

Is all this new technology improving our thinking or dampening it? Are all these new communication tools turning us into navel-gazing human/brand hybrids, or are we developing a new set of senses that allow us to benefit from never severing contact with the people most important to us?

That's the topic of this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, and to answer these questions we welcome this episode's guest, Clive Thompson, who is the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. As the title suggests, he disagrees with the naysayers, and his book is an impressive investigation into why they are probably (thankfully) wrong.

Direct download: 058_-_Technology_-_Clive_Thompson_Rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:28pm EST

Reframing is one of those tools that emerged from psychology that just plain works...it’s practical, simple, and with practice and repetition leads to real change in people with a variety of problems. It works because we rarely question our own interpretations, the meanings we construct when examining a set of facts, or out own introspection of internal emotional states. So much of the things we feel in anticipation are just best guesses and assumptions, models of reality that may or may not be accurate and will likely pan out much differently than we predict.

In this episode, we meet Tom Bunn, a former pilot, and Robert Morris, a startup CEO, who are both exploring the power of reframing to change people's thoughts and behaviors - one to conquer the fear of flying, the other to crowdsource a new social network devoted to mental health.

Direct download: 060_-_Reframing_-_Robert_R._Morris.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:56am EST

Just how much control do you really have over your life, relationships, happiness, and the events around the world? Well, much less than we would like to admit.

Yet, time and again, we see in psychology, that in situations in which the outcomes are clearly, undoubtable random, people tend to latch onto any shred of evidence that could be interpreted otherwise.

Our guests in this episode are psychiatrist Michael I. Bennett and his comedy writer daughter Sarah Bennett whose new book, Fuck Feelings makes the case for accepting the illusion of control as a guiding principle for living a better life.

Direct download: 059_-_The_Illusion_of_Control_-_Michael_and_Sarah_Bennett.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 4:22pm EST

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