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:
Finding New Year’s resolutions isn’t always easy. To help you out, we’ve gotten ideas from some of the greatest thinkers of all time.
Finding New Year's resolutions isn't always easy. To help you out, we've gotten ideas from some of the greatest thinkers of all time.
1. Go for a walk every day.
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right."
― Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard, whose angst would cripple even the most dramatic teenager, often found refuge from the anxiety of existence in walks. Failing that, he tried to explain the difficulty of his life in his writings. He had a lot to say about angst, anxiety, God, death, and coming to terms with freedom.
2. Embrace yourself—and others—as a complete ecosystem.
"I have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate human actions, but to understand them; and, to this end, I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties, just as pertinent to it, as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere, which phenomena, though inconvenient, are yet necessary, and have fixed causes, by means of which we endeavor to understand their nature, and the mind has just as much pleasure in viewing them aright, as in knowing such things as flatter the senses."
— Spinoza (edited)
Spinoza, whose philosophy is fascinating, saw the universe as deterministic. Every action, therefore, had an immediate cause that could be discovered. If you can find out what made a person angry, violent, pitiful, or depressed, it becomes easier to understand their actions and simpler to forgive their faults. Coming to terms with the idea that everyone has lots to deal with, things that might make them unpleasant for a while, can make us all a little more understanding.
3. Try to live like water.
The best, like water, benefit all and do not compete.
They dwell in lowly spots that everyone else scorns.
Putting others before themselves, they find themselves in the foremost place and come very near to the Tao.
In their dwelling, they love the earth; in their heart, they love what is deep.
In personal relationships, they love kindness.
In their words, they love truth. In the world, they love peace.
In personal affairs, they love what is right. In action, they love choosing the right time.
It is because they do not compete with others that they are beyond the reproach of the world.
The Tao, also known as the Way, is often compared to water. Generous, soft and flowing, pure, regenerating, and often cyclical; to be like water is to embrace the Way. Water's weaknesses, the fact it is soft and gentle, make it more powerful; it can flow anywhere and even wear down stone. A better example of the harmony of opposites is hard to find.
Pictured: Life goals?
4. Examine your life and beliefs regularly.
“The unexamined life is not worth living."
The gadfly of Athens made it his job to examine every belief, no matter how widely held, and determine if it was true or not. Often, he would ask people to define a virtue, such as courage, only to find that the people who valued it most had no idea what it was. It is only by examining our lives that we can hope to improve them.
5. Read a new book each month.
"The Brahmins had no cattle, no gold, no wealth. They had study as their wealth and grain."
The Brahmins were the teachers and holy men of ancient India, and continue as a caste to this day. In theory, they were the highest social class. Rather than focus on money and worldly affairs, they valued learning and knowledge. The Buddha reminds us that these respected men were men of the mind and encouraged us to follow their example.
6. Spend more time with your friends.
The best friend is he that, when he wishes a person's good, wishes it for that person's own sake."
Aristotle thought friendship was vital to living a good life, but not just any friends would do. He had a three-part system for understanding friendship. The most genuine friendships, the ones that everyone should strive for, are the ones where two people value each other as people and not as a means to an end.
7. Be less of the person you are expected to be, and more of the person you want to be.
"Become who you are!"
Nietzsche, who has other excellent one-line ideas, was the king of individuality. There was nothing worse for Nietzsche than for a person to join the herd of people who just followed along. While he was a determinist, he still argued that we should embrace our lives and whatever comes at us.
8. Strive for excellence every day.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit"
Aristotle viewed virtues as skills, ones that we would strive to perfect over our lifetimes. To be virtuous was to embody an excellence in a particular area such as courage, temperance, or friendship. Doing it once or twice wasn't enough, you had to make a habit of it to truly embody the virtue.
9. Embrace change.
"One cannot step twice in the same river twice,"
Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who argued that everything was always changing. Not only does this mean that the river changes, but you do as well. Rather than trying to latch onto things that cannot last, we should embrace the notion that everything will soon pass.
10. Take charge of your life.
"Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay."
-Simone de Beauvoir
Existentialism shows us how we are all responsible for what we are and will become. Waiting for your life to change is an option, but one that denies your ability to shape yourself into what you desire to be. Seize the day!
Stereotyping isn't about "bad people doing bad things." It's about our subconscious biases, and how they sneak into organizational structures.
Psychologist Valerie Purdie Greenaway is the first African American to be tenured in the sciences at Columbia University, in its entire 263 year history. Despite her celebrated position—and, in fact, perhaps because of it—she still struggles with perception, subtle stereotyping, and the enormous stakes of being one of few women of color in a leadership role. Here, Valerie Purdie Greenaway speaks with diversity and inclusion expert Jennifer Brown about being "the only" in a workplace, whether that is along lines of gender, race, culture, or sexual orientation, and how organizations and individuals can do more to recognize and address their biases. That also means letting go of the idea that stereotyping is a malevolent case of "bad people doing bad things." What does discrimination really look like day to day? Most of it is subconscious, subtle, and is deeply embedded into the structure of organizations, which can have an impact on performance, mentorship, and staff turnover. Do you recognize any of your own behavior in this discussion? This live conversation was part of a recent New York panel on diversity, inclusion, and collaboration at work.
Here's one use for all that harvested personal data that you might not object to. Algorithms and big data are no longer just for profit; they can bring us self-awareness and growth.
Who knows more about you than anyone else? Perhaps it’s not so much who, but what. Our intimacy with our devices has surpassed our closeness with most of our friends and family, says Nichol Bradford, and an algorithm never forgets – it will remember everything you ever typed into a search box, how you voted, when you were sick, where your scroll slowed down on a page, how quickly you clicked a picture that it mathematically knew you would like. Until now, big data like this has been used purely for profit, so that media companies can sell advertising, and e-commerce sites can move units. But that’s about to change, explains Bradford. There is tech emerging that can not only track your external behavior, wishes and desires, but read your inner biological signals and interpret micro-expressions on your face to accurately assess your psychological state. If you put this technology into the hands of individuals, not just companies, it could help us manage our habits. This technology could first show us who we really are – objectively, with none of our ego-protective denial or projection – then be a tool to change our behavior and thinking patterns for the better. Nichol Bradford is the author of The Sisterhood.
Nichol Bradford is the author of The Sisterhood.
The happiest moments of our lives are when we lose ourselves – in art, in exercise, in love. According to Harvard's Diane Paulus, being able to 'play' and engage in something outside of ourselves is a valuable respite from our egos.
It takes a brave adult to play. It’s a kind of subordination, a lessening of your status, a silly exhibition of the child you once were. And that, says Diane Paulus, is why it’s so essential.
Paulus is the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (ART) at Harvard University, so a good percentage of her day is spent encouraging and directing people to appreciate the art of make-believe. What she realized in doing so, and what she’s experienced in her own life, is that losing yourself in something frees you from your ego.
Whether you go for a jog, or paint something, or have sex, or watch a film so absorbing you forget to even eat one kernel of your popcorn – that's a respite from your cerebral, inward-focused self, and that respite is crucial in an age that’s obsessed with the ‘me’, with celebrity, and that's plagued by status anxiety. Play is the great equalizer, as Paulus says: "For me it's come when I've been part of a group. And I think it's because I did theater as a kid and I always found, that moment when you could be with a group of people, and it didn't matter, you didn't matter anymore. And of course you matter because you're bringing all of your heart and your soul and your mind to it, but you're involved in something larger than yourself."
Paulus presents the elegant version of Tyler Durden’s message: "you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake", a sentiment that urges us to live beyond our own limits, to not be caught up in the trapping of our ego, which insists that we are special, and is angry when we’re not treated as such.
Theatre is the way Paulus loses herself; so go out and see a show. Climb a mountain. Read a book. Have sex. Be an audience to something other than yourself. Don’t be afraid to play.Find more about Diane Paulus at www.dianepaulus.net