“You Are Not So Smart” by David McRaney

In an Idiocracy dominated by cable TV bobbleheads, government propagandists, and corporate spinmeisters, many of us know that mass ignorance is a huge problem. Now, thanks to David McRaney’s mind-blowing book, we can finally see the scientific roots of that problem. Anybody still self-aware enough to wonder why society now worships willful stupidity should read this book. David Sirota, reviewing You Are Not So Smart (2011)

David McRaneyYou Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself, is both “an entertaining illumination of the stupid beliefs that make us feel wise” and “a celebration of self-delusion,” according to the publisher.

Maria Popova, Brainpickings, summarizes the book:

From confirmation bias — our tendency to seek out information, whether or not it’s true, that confirms our existing beliefs, something all the more perilous in the age of the filter bubble — to Dunbar’s Number, our evolution-imposed upper limit of 150 friends, which pulls into question those common multi-hundred Facebook ‘friendships,’ McRaney blends the rigor of his career as a journalist with his remarkable penchant for synthesis, humanizing some of the most important psychology research of the past century and framing it in the context of our daily lives.

More from George Mocharko, Huffington Post:

In the chapter entitled ‘Third Person Effect,’ McRaney details how people think they are independent thinkers, uninfluenced by the media, advertisements and political rhetoric they are inundated with. This happens despite our cynicism when we think we are intelligent enough to see through the tactics that these persuaders use by believing we are ‘inoculated against’ their controlling of the message…

Hindsight bias and normalcy bias are a couple more of McRaney’s topics, and below are some quotes from You Are Not So Smart:

You want to believe that those who work hard and sacrifice get ahead and those who are lazy and cheat do not. This, of course, is not always true. Success is often greatly influenced by when you were born, where you grew up, the socioeconomic status of your family, and random chance.

If you see lots of shark attacks in the news, you think, “Gosh, sharks are out of control.” What you should think is “Gosh, the news loves to cover shark attacks.”

When you need something to be true, you will look for patterns; you connect the dots like the stars of a constellation. Your brain abhors disorder. You see faces in clouds and demons in bonfires. Those who claim the powers of divination hijack these natural human tendencies. They know they can depend on you to use subjective validation in the moment and confirmation bias afterward.

If you think the world is just and fair, people who need help may never get it. Realize that even though we are all responsible for our actions, the blame for evil acts rests on the perpetrator and never the victim. No one deserves to be raped or bullied, robbed or murdered. To make the world more just and fair, you have to make it harder for evil to thrive, and you can’t do this just by reducing the number of its potential targets.

You have a deep desire to be right all of the time and a deeper desire to see yourself in a positive light both morally and behaviorally. You can stretch your mind pretty far to achieve these goals.

McRaney’s trailer for You Are Not So Smart tackles procrastination via present bias:

Also consider his followup book You Are Now Less Dumb, featured in my next post.

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