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Think Tank

You Are Not So Smart and You Are in Very Good Company

Psychology can be humbling, and being humbled can be a great gift. It can even be fun, exhilarating. That was the impression I had after reading David McRaney's marvelous book that now holds a commanding presence atop my shelf, You Are Not So Smart. McRaney offers succinct explanations and thoughtful commentaries on cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies. 

"You and everyone else come into the world preloaded with these pesky and completely wrong ways of seeing things," McRaney writes, "and you rarely notice them." But remember, you're in good company. From "the greatest scientist to the most humble artisan," McRaney reminds us, we all think and do stupid things. 

As a companion to his book, McRaney hosts YouAreNotSoSmart.com, where you can find podcasts featuring an impressive array of thinkers, including Daniel Simons, Christopher Chabris, V.S. Ramachandran, Bruce Hood, Andrew Potter.

We are excited to be sharing these podcasts on Big Think, and today we'll be starting with Simons, the author of The Invisible Gorilla

But first I want to share a brief exchange I had with McRaney that captures the spirit of his book, blog, podcast and overall project to help us recognize our unconscious biases. As I pointed out, this is quite a humbling exercise, but in what ways does he find it can also be pleasurable?

Here's McRaney's wonderful response:

I think each scientific discipline offers epiphanies that call into question the magnitude of your personal fears and insecurities. The size of a nebula or the machinery inside a cell or the length of time between yesterday and a dinosaur's foot pressing into the mud - these things should make your anxieties seem very small, a part of something too immense to hold in one thought.

Psychology offers another humbling epiphany. There is a vulnerability that you must accept once you start to unravel the biases, fallacies, and heuristics. The story you tell yourself to explain yourself is imperfect. Your personal narrative is bent and twisted and inaccurate, and that's beautiful because it's true for all of us.

I take great pleasure in accepting this because I feel a unity in the humility, in the recognition that we are a community of messy, stumbling, fumbling beings tumbling through space wrestling with a confusing gift of consciousness. For me, that has led to a sense of empathy I never knew until I saw my own flaws reflected in the species as a whole, and the flaws of the species reflected in myself.

Are you in for the ride? Start here with this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, which is an interview with Daniel Simons, co-author of "The Invisible Gorilla." 

Some more exciting news: McRaney's new book, You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself is available for pre-order on Amazon here

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