Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
10 logical mistakes you make every day — and what to do instead
Do you ever act irrationally? You probably have. Let's take a look at how to fix that.
Most of us like to suppose that we are rational people, going about our days with at least some attempt at using logic and reason. However, logical fallacies and simple mistakes are everywhere. Some wrong ways of thinking are so familiar or so easy to overlook that it is possible you're unaware that there is even a mistake being made.
Here are ten logical fallacies and mistakes you make every day that cause life to be a little more difficult, and how you can avoid making those mistakes again.
The Gambler's Fallacy
When you flip a coin nine times in a row, can you use the results to predict what will happen the tenth time? While many people might try to say "tails has been on a streak" or "heads is overdue," neither of these past events has any effect on the next outcome. Both outcomes still have a 50-50 chance of happening on the next flip. The results of the next coin toss cannot be affected by the results of the last.
What should I do?
Instead of viewing probabilities in the long run, such as the idea that the coin has to have 50 heads and 50 tails results in a set of 100, or that a roulette wheel must hit all numbers at the same rate over a long enough time, look at each bet as separate from all others. The odds never change as a result of the last outcome for a fixed odds, random system.
The Appeal to Authority
Authority figures, but only on law.
Can something be true just because I say it is? Of course not. If your mechanic tells you that you need an oil change, is that true? It probably is. The appeal to authority is one of the subtler fallacies, but one that can still be overcome. Nothing is true just because an authority figure says it is. Instead, something is correct, and the authority figure has determined that fact by using their expertise on the subject.
Determining if the person you are talking to is trying to use raw, irrelevant authority to persuade you or if they actually are an expert on the subject is essential. The difficulty in saying that an authority figure is wrong was studied in the Milgram Experiment. However, it is rarely considered a good excuse to say you were just doing what you were told.
What should I do?
Don't blindly take a statement as true just because an authority figure gave it. My doctor is an authority on medicine and what he tells me about my health is likely to be correct. However, he has less knowledge when it comes to woodworking. On that subject, his authority as a doctor is meaningless. Always assure that an authority figure is qualified and that what they say is likely to be true before taking it as a fact.
The False Dilemma
We've all either heard or made this argument. We must do either A or B, and since A is not what we want then we must do B. However, very often we are facing a false dilemma. A situation where we have more than two choices and are being railroaded into thinking we don't.
What should I do?
When it seems you only have two choices, always make sure there are actually only two options. If a person starts a sentence with the phrase, "The choice is simple," know they are probably about to introduce a false dilemma.
The Post-Hoc Fallacy
Good luck charms, the most common form of this fallacy.
Many people tend to see patterns where they don't exist. This fallacy is when you connect two unrelated events and presume one caused the other. For example, when you flip on a light switch and hear a crash in the next room. Did flipping the switch cause the noise? No, but we often still try to connect events with no relationship. This fallacy is often the basis for good luck charms. "I brought my rabbit's foot with me, and it went well!" you might hear. But, it does not follow that the rabbit's foot caused the outcome.
What should I do?
Remember that coincidences sometimes happen and that sometimes two unrelated events can occur in a way to make them look related. Likewise, remember that one incident seeming to cause another wouldn't prove a relationship anyway; you would need many more tests to demonstrate that.
Affirming the Consequent
The building has collapsed, but do you know why?
This mistake is so easy to make that there can be no doubt that nearly everyone has done it. It is so similar to a valid form of thinking that the mistake can slip right past us.
While it is correct to argue this way:
If A, then B.
However, this is not correct:
If A, then B.
For example, saying "If the cornerstone is removed from the building it will fall over" is fine. But if we see the building has collapsed, it is still possible that another event caused it. The cornerstone might never have moved.
What should I do?
If-then thinking is beneficial and a useful tool, but always be sure that your thinking is going in the right direction. The cause can be used to predict the effect, but the result cannot be used to prove what the cause was. You need more evidence for that.
The Relativist Fallacy
If you believe it hard enough, is this dog really a unicorn?
Can the statement, "Well, it's true for me," ever be correct? It can, but you must use it carefully. While some statements are fully relative, like "I think cilantro tastes horrible," others are fully objective, like "Unicorns do not exist." While it makes sense for a person to say that cilantro tastes terrible to them, it doesn't work to say that unicorns are real for one person and not the next. The existence or non-existence of unicorns is an objective fact not influenced by any belief in that fact.
What should I do?
While some truths, such as ideas on what tastes good, are relative, others, such as what the capital of Canada is, are not. Before you either argue or listen to an argument that somebody is entitled to their own truth, first ask if the fact in question is one that can be relative. If that fact cannot be made true just by believing in it, then they this fallacy may be present.
The Genetic Fallacy
If I am made up of DNA, am I a double helix?
If one thing comes from another, do they have to share traits? This might seem like a convenient bias to have. However, do redwood trees seem to have much in common with their seeds? The genetic fallacy is the assumption that anything with an origin in one thing is highly likely to share traits.
What should I do?
This one is easy to do by accident, but also simple to overcome with a little extra thinking. Remember that things need not have the same traits as their origin. Think of the Volkswagen company; it was founded by the Nazi labor front. Does that make it a Nazi company now? Of course not, we would have to examine its present merits by themselves to determine that. The best thing to do for this fallacy is to try to examine why a thing has the traits it has without using its origin as an end-all answer.
The Inductive Fallacy
Will the sun always come up? It always has!
The sun came up today, does that mean it will come up tomorrow? David Hume showed us in 1748 that inductive arguments can never give us certainty, only probabilities and useful generalizations. The fact that apples always have fallen to the earth doesn't mean it will forever continue to happen. It is simply probable. Here's another example: "Harold is a grandfather. Harold is bald. Therefore, all grandfathers are bald." Inductive thinking makes a broad and highly probably generalization from specific information, but it is assumption, not certainty.
What should I do?
While you don't need to worry about the sun taking a day off tomorrow, it's not because it has never failed to rise. Inductive reasoning can't prove things, but it can be used to help find the best explanation for things. These reasons are better to use in arguments as to why an event will or will not happen than just saying that it has always happened before.
The Slippery Slope
A very slippery slope.
This fallacy is a common one. You have undoubtedly heard somebody say that taking action A is a slippery slope to taking action B, and B is horrible. They argue that we shouldn't take action A because it will, inevitably, lead us to take action B. But is that true? Generally speaking, no.
Now, slippery slope arguments can be good ones if it can be proved that the slope exists. If you can show that taking action A will inevitably lead to me taking action B then you have a good argument. However, most of the time people fail to demonstrate that inevitability.
What should I do?
If you are making the argument, be sure to demonstrate that action A concretely leads to action B. Simply saying "It could happen" doesn't count. You have to either prove it or show that it is much more likely to happen by action A taking place. If you are listening to the argument, always make sure that claimed connections between events are there.
The Masked Man Fallacy
A masked man.
Identical objects share all of the same properties. This rule, called Leibnitz's law, seems simple enough to understand. However, it is very easy to misuse this concept to make bad arguments.
This argument is correct:
1. A is C
2. B is not C
Therefore: A is not B.
However, you can't plug in just any property into the argument and have it work. Think about this one:
The Joker believes that Batman beat him up.
The Joker does not believe that Bruce Wayne beat him up.
Therefore: Batman is not Bruce Wayne.
While physical properties follow Leibnitz's law, attitudes, beliefs, and psychological states don't necessarily do so.
What should I do?
When you are identifying a person, object, or idea be sure to check that the properties you are looking for are non-relative ones.
Here are more tips for making better decisions, from poker pro Liv Boeree:
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
To understand ourselves and our place in the universe, "we should have humility but also self-respect," Frank Wilczek writes in a new book.
Debating is cognitively taxing but also important for the health of a democracy—provided it's face-to-face.
- New research at Yale identifies the brain regions that are affected when you're in disagreeable conversations.
- Talking with someone you agree with harmonizes brain regions and is less energetically taxing.
- The research involves face-to-face dialogues, not conversations on social media.
There are two kinds of identity politics. One is good. The other, very bad. | Jonathan Haidt<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f0e52833af5d35adab591bb92d79f8e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l-_yIhW9Ias?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Unsurprisingly, harmonious synchronization of brain states occurred when volunteers agreed, similar to <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322764116_Creativity_and_Flow_in_Surgery_Music_and_Cooking_An_Interview_with_Neuroscientist_Charles_Limb" target="_blank">group flow</a>—the coordination of brain waves that hip-hop and jazz musicians (among others) experience when performing together. Coordination exceeds the social, into the neurological. As the team writes, "talking during agreement was characterized by increased activity in a social and attention network including right supramarginal gyrus, bilateral frontal eye-fields, and left frontopolar regions."</p><p>This contrasts with argumentative behavior, in which "the frontoparietal system including bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus showed increased activity while talking during disagreement."</p><p>Senior author Joy Hirsch notes that our brain is essentially a social processing network. The evolutionary success of humans is thanks to our ability to coordinate. Dissonance is exhausting. Overall, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210113090938.htm" target="_blank">she says</a>, "it just takes a lot more brain real estate to disagree than to agree," comparing arguments to a symphony orchestra playing different music. </p><p>As the team notes, language, visual, and social systems are all dynamically intertwined inside of our brain. For most of history, yelling at one another in comment sections was impossible. Arguments had to occur the old-fashioned way: while staring at the source of your discontent. </p>
People of the "left-wing" side yell at a Trump supporter during a "Demand Free Speech" rally on Freedom Plaza on July 6, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images<p>Leading us to an interesting question: do the same brain regions fire when you're screaming with your fingers on your Facebook feed? Given the lack of visual feedback from the person on the other side of the argument, likely not—as it is unlikely that many people would argue in the same manner when face-to-face with a person on the other side of a debate. We are generally more civil in real life than on a screen.</p><p>The researchers point out that seeing faces causes complex neurological reactions that must be interpreted in real-time. For example, gazing into someone's eyes requires higher-order processing that must be dealt with during the moment. Your brain coordinates to make sense of the words being spoken <em>and</em> pantomimes being witnessed. This combination of verbal and visual processes are "generally associated with high-level cognitive and linguistic functions."</p><p>While arguing is more exhausting, it also sharpens your senses—when a person is present, at least. Debating is a healthy function of society. Arguments force you to consider other viewpoints and potentially come to different conclusions. As with physical exercise, which makes you stronger even though it's energetically taxing, disagreement propels societies forward.</p>In this study, every participant was forced to <em>listen</em> to the other person. As this research was focused on live interactions, it adds to the literature of cognitive processing during live interactions and offers insights into the cognitive tax of anger. Even anger is a net positive when it forces both sides to think through their thoughts and feelings on a matter. As social animals, we need that tension in our lives in order to grow. Yelling into the void of a comments section? Not so helpful. <p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
In a joint briefing at the 101st American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, NASA and NOAA revealed 2020's scorching climate data.