When It's OK to Trust Common Sense
Experts should trust all of their instincts and their common sense in their areas of expertise. The problem comes when non-experts have "common sense opinion" that really is just coming out of nowhere.
Maria Konnikova is the New York Times bestselling author of The Confidence Game (Viking/Penguin 2016) and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking/Penguin, 2013). She is a contributing writer for The New Yorker, where she writes a regular column with a focus on psychology and culture, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, California Sunday, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, WIRED, and The Smithsonian, among numerous other publications. Maria is a recipient of the 2015 Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship, and is a Schachter Writing Fellow at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center. She formerly wrote the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where she studied psychology, creative writing, and government, and received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University.
Experts should trust all of their instincts and their common sense in their areas of expertise. The problem comes when non-experts have "common sense opinion" that really is just coming out of nowhere. And we do that all the time.
There are areas where we’re expert but then we do the exact same thing in areas where we’re not really expert. So if you think for instance I see this person and he’s acting shifty to me, my common sense is he is doing something wrong. You shouldn’t disregard that common sense because you’re an expert at looking at people and in reading body language. You’ve done that your entire life.
So something as simple as that you actually are an expert and you should listen to yourself. Even if you’re not really sure why you think something you might be picking up on cues. The trick is ask yourself why do I think this person is acting suspicious. Am I actually reading body language or am I using non-expertise? Am I putting someone else in this situation and this person just reminds me of someone I don’t like so now I think they’re shifty.
So it’s not about not trusting yourself per se. It’s about examining the reasons for your assumptions and always saying, “Okay am I actually making this judgment based on some sort of expertise or am I like one of those people who makes a decision about whether or not I'm going to hire someone in the first 30 seconds of an interview just because I liked them or didn’t like them?” In which case there’s no expertise there. You don’t know anything about the person. So I think it depends on judgment and it depends on what you’re using to get there.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?
- During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
- The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
- Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.