You Are Not So Smart

If you believe something is bad because it is...bad, or that something is good because, well, it's good, you probably wouldn't use that kind of reasoning in an argument, yet, sometimes, without realizing it, that's exactly what you do.

In this episode three experts in logic and rationality explain how circular reasoning leads us to "beg the question" when producing arguments and defending our ideas, beliefs, and behaviors.

Direct download: 074_-_Begging_The_Question.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 11:04pm EDT

We don’t treat all of our beliefs equally.

For some, we see them as either true or false, correct or incorrect. For others, we see them as probabilities, chances, odds. In one world, certainty, in the other, uncertainty.

In this episode you will learn from two experts in reasoning how to apply a rule from the 1700s that makes it possible to see all of your beliefs as being in “grayscale,” as neither black nor white, neither 0 nor 100 percent, but always somewhere in between, as a shade of gray reflecting your confidence in just how wrong you might be...given the evidence at hand.

Show notes: bit.ly/1Nfby8T

Direct download: 073_-_Bayes_Theorem.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:39pm EDT

In this episode, we explore why we are unaware that we lack the skill to tell how unskilled and unaware we are.

The evidence gathered so far by psychologists and neuroscientists seems to suggest that each one of us has a relationship with our own ignorance, a dishonest, complicated relationship, and that dishonesty keeps us sane, happy, and willing to get out of bed in the morning. Part of that ignorance is a blind spot we each possess that obscures both our competence and incompetence called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

It's a psychological phenomenon that arises sometimes in your life because you are generally very bad at self-assessment. If you have ever been confronted with the fact that you were in over your head, or that you had no idea what you were doing, or that you thought you were more skilled at something than you actually were – then you may have experienced this effect. It is very easy to be both unskilled and unaware of it, and in this episode we explore why that is with professor David Dunning, one of the researchers who coined the term and a scientist who continues to add to our understanding of the phenomenon.

Show Notes: bit.ly/1NfbAhf

Direct download: 072_-_Dunning_Rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:37pm EDT

Does the Bermuda Triangle seem quite as mysterious once you know that just about any triangle of that size drawn over the globe just about anywhere will contain as many, if not more, missing planes?

When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, when looking for something specific, you tend to notice patterns everywhere, which leads you to ask the question, "What are the odds?" Usually, the odds are actually pretty good.

Though some things in life seem too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, given enough time (and enough events) randomness will begin to clump in places. You are born looking for clusters where chance events have built up like sand into dunes. Picking out clusters of coincidence is a predicable malfunction of a normal human mind, and it can lead to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

Direct download: 071_-_The_Texas_Sharpshooter_Fallacy.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:17pm EDT

What do you do when a member of a group to which you belong acts in a way that you feel is in opposition to your values? Do you denounce the group, or do you redefine the boundaries of membership?

When our identities become intertwined with our definitions, we can easily fall victim to something called The No true Scotsman Fallacy.

In this episode, you will learn from three experts in logic and argumentation how to identify, defend against, and avoid deploying this strange thinking quirk that leads to schisms and stasis in groups both big and small.

Direct download: 070_-_The_No_True_Scotsman_Fallacy.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:24pm EDT

Obviously, the world isn't black and white, so why do we try to drain it of color when backed into a rhetorical corner?

Why do we have such a hard time realizing that we've suggested the world is devoid of nuance when we are in the heat of an argument?

In this episode we explore the black and white fallacy and the false dichotomies it generates. You'll learn how to spot this fallacy, what to do when someone uses it against you, and how to avoid committing it yourself.

Direct download: 069_-_The_Black_and_White_Fallacy.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 4:37pm EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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