I promised a summary and it's overdue. Here it is.
1. The illusion of attention
. The invisible gorilla video illustrates that well. We have only a limited resource of attention, though we do not perceive that. Thus, while hands free cell phones seem like a good idea, they actually do not improve the situation at all. This has been born out in actual studies. The authors give several examples of our failure to understand the illusion of attention. The attack submarine USS Greenville’s crew failed to notice the Ehime Maru fishing boat when they did maneuvers. Because of that, the Ehime Maru was sunk
Part of this illusion is because the brain seeks familiar patterns. It is how we make sense of the world quickly. As a result, we see what we expect and do not see what we do not expect. PareidoliaWiki
is an example of this and is mentioned in the book.
2. The illusion of memory
. Most people think memory works like a video tape and to remember something, we need only wind it back and review it. That is an illusion. Memory captures feelings and ideas and a couple of details if we are lucky. It is part what happened and part how we made sense of what happened. The main example discussed is the incident where college basketball coach Bobby Knight had an altercation with Neil Reed. Reed and Knight remembered things very differently. When it was discovered the incident was caught on tape, it turned out they were both kind of right, but they both kind of exaggerated. It is possible both were lying. But other examples of witnesses seeing something they did not see suggests it was probably faulty memory.
Another example given was a man who was convicted of rape based on a woman who escaped an attack and identified him. She testified in court as confidently as can be that he was without question the attacker. He went to prison. But 12 years later DNA evidence showed he could not have done it. She felt horrible and struggled with guilt for years. Her confidence brings us to the next illusion.
3. The illusions of confidence and competence
. It turns out, they go together.
We rate competence in other people based on their confidence. However, most people overrate themselves. It discussed one of my favorite psych studies of all time – Dunning and Kruger. Dunning & Kruger
showed that incompetent people consistently overrate their own skills and underrate the skills of people who are competent. The more skill the acquire, the less likely they are to do this. In fact, the most competent people often underrate themselves.
The book also discussed how confidence is a terrible indicator of competence for another reason. Confidence is a personality trait. People who are confident tend to be confident in all areas, whether they know what they are doing or not. Being confident is like having a nice smile.
So the moral of this illusion is this – project confidence and people will trust you more. But regard other confident people as potential idiots until they prove otherwise.
4. The illusion of knowledge
. Do you know how a toilet works? Really? Draw one. Include the flushing mechanism. Include the valve. Can’t do it? Okay. Try a bicycle. Include the brakes and the shifter and the weird ratcheting sprocket. Can’t do that? Don’t worry. Most people can’t do it either. They know how to work a toilet, so they kind of think they know how it works. This is the illusion of knowledge.
If you ask someone how a simple mechanism works, ask “why is that?” each time they answer. Most of the time they give up after the second question.
So if people do not really understand simple things like bikes and cylinder locks, why the heck do we think they know anything about complex systems, like economies?
We model things, but they are always too simple and ultimately fail.
5. The illusion of cause
. We often think we understand causation. We usually don’t. For example, I was telling a friend of mine that homeopathy was a fraud. She disagreed. Her father is 105 (yes, he really is) and he took homeopathy all his life. So there. Homeopathy works. I tried to explain that did not mean homeopathy was responsible for his longevity, but she wasn’t hearing it.
The illusion of cause breaks has 3 major contributions.
First, as discussed earlier, our brains are overactive pattern seekers
. It takes the brain just .2 seconds to distinguish facial patterns in inanimate objects (like parking meters or car grilles). It is biased to perceive meaning even if there is none.
Second, because of this pattern seeking, we often view coincidences and correlations as causes. “I prayed for rain, and it rained!” Hyperactive pattern seeking leads to conspiracy theories and intellectual black holes.
Last, we love a narrative
. Whenever we get a piece of information, we automatically ask “and then what happened?” It is called temporal association
. We see later events as being caused by earlier events, whether they are related or not. If you read, “Jim had asked his sister to stay for the weekend but she refused. Later that weekend, he killed himself,” the natural conclusion you draw is that Jim’s suicide had something to do with his sister’s absence, when the two may be completely unrelated.
6. The illusion of potential
. You know that old nugget about only using 5% of our brain? This is it. We like to think we have gobs and gobs of potential, just waiting to be unlocked. We don’t. We also like to think that there are easy ways to unlock that potential. Remember the Baby Mozart bullshit from a few years ago? It was all about instantly unlocking your baby’s superhuman potential just by playing music
. It never requires repetition or hard work. Get ripped abs while sitting on you ass watching TV. Not likely.
I have some ideas about how all these play into religious belief. But I’m tired of typing. So, if you are interested, tell me your thoughts on that. When my fingers have had a rest, I’ll join in.