May 31, 2016

Review of The Big Picture (Sean Carrol, 2016)

I learned about Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at Caltech, through various interesting YouTube videos on topics such as the non-existence of an afterlife, theism versus naturalism, the arrow of time, the relation between the laws of nature and the meaning of life. Elaborating on that latter theme, Sean Carroll has written an extremely ambitious new book called The Big Picture, On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and The Universe itself in which he, as the title suggests, presents a view on everything trying to integrate what scientists have discovered about cosmology and particle science with a view on meaning of life and morality.

May 27, 2016

Deliberate practice is also important for creative achievement

Scott Barry Kaufman wrote an article in which he asserted that deliberate practice may be important in achievement domains such as chess and playing a musical instrument but that it does not work as well for almost any creative domain. His argument is: deliberate practice works well for activities which rely on consistently replicable behaviors that must be repeated over and over again but this is not what creative performance relies on. In a response to Kaufman's article, The deliberate creative, Cal Newport refutes Kaufman's assertion convincingly.

Interview with Anders Ericsson
K. Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who is a professor at Florida State University. In the beginning of his career he worked with among other Nobel laureate Herbert Simon. He is recognized as the most prominent researcher in the area of expertise development. Together with his colleagues, he has done research into how experts in different areas have managed to reach the top of their fields. Uptil now he has mostly scientific publications. But now he and Robert Pool have published a popular book about expertise development: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Here is an interview with Ericsson about this new book. 

May 26, 2016

Success and luck

Cornell economist Robert H. Frank has written a new book: Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. In this book he explains that luck plays a bigger role in achieving success than we usually realize and especially the luck to have been born in a prosperous country. People differ in the degree to which they realize that their success is not only based on their own abilities and effort but also on other, external, factors such as luck. People who are more aware of this generally feel more grateful and are more prepared to pay higher taxes. People who attribute their success to a large extent on internal factors such as effort and ability and to a lesser extent to external factors such as luck generally feel less grateful and are less willing to pay higher taxes.

May 22, 2016

Epistemological interviewing

Irrational beliefs can be harmful to ourselves and others. Therefore, being prepared to update our beliefs (making them more realistic/rational) can be wise. However, this is usually not easy because there can be multiple obstacles to do it. But if if we see the usefulness of letting go of irrational beliefs a few practical tips can help us make progress. Helping other people to get rid of irrational beliefs is another matter. We usually recognize other people's irrationality easier that our own irrationality (if we'd clearly see that our beliefs were irrational we would not hold on them in the first place). Seeing other people's irrationality can make us want to confront them about their irrationality. However, such confrontations seldom work.

May 20, 2016

The underestimation-of-compliance effect

(Mis)Understanding Our Influence Over Others. A Review of the Underestimation-of-Compliance Effect
- Bohns (2016)

Abstract: I review a burgeoning program of research examining people’s perceptions of their influence over others. This research demonstrates that people are overly pessimistic about their ability to get others to comply with their requests. Participants in our studies have asked more than 14,000 strangers a variety of requests. We find that participants underestimate the likelihood that the people they approach will comply with their requests.

May 19, 2016

23 Cognitive biases, heuristics and effects

One of the ways we can counter irrational beliefs is by informing ourselves about some well documented cognitive biases, heuristics and effects which all to some extent skew are perception of reality, usually without us being aware of it. I'll keep my explanations brief because it is quite easy to learn more about each of these biases, heuristics and effects by googling them.

How to detect nonsense!

Guest post by Jamie Hale 

Nonsense, as it is referred to here, refers to “nonscientific information” that is perpetuated as scientific, when in fact it is not scientific. I developed the Nonsense Detection Kit that provides guidelines that can be used to separate sense from nonsense. There is no single criterion for distinguishing sense from nonsense, but it is possible to identify indicators, or warning signs. The more warnings signs that appear the more likely that claims are nonsense. The Nonsense Detection Kit was inspired by the works of Carl Sagan, Scott Lilienfeld and Michael Shermer). The Nonsense Detection Kit is referring to nonsense in terms of “scientific nonsense.”

May 17, 2016

3 Types of harm from irrational beliefs

I define irrational beliefs as beliefs which are incoherent or logically inconsistent and which are in conflict with what we know about reality (in conflict with available evidence, that is). Nobody is free from irrational beliefs. Our way of interpreting reality is not and never will be perfect. We are afflicted with systematic biases in how we perceive reality. Furthermore, through our upbringing and culture, we all inevitably have, without us being aware of it, adapted beliefs which are outdated.

That we have irrational beliefs does not mean we must acquiesce in that fact. Critically reflecting on your own beliefs is a good thing. It enables you to develop your view on the world and to make it more realistic. For several reasons that can be hard. In this post I described four factors which impede the process of changing our of beliefs: (1) the confirmation bias, (2) self-fulfilling prophecies, (3) labeling oneself based on one's beliefs, and (4) social pressure. Then, in this post, I described some ways to overcome these obstacles.

Our rebellion against our genes

In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book The Origin of species in which he described a mechanism for the process of evolution of species for the first time. At its core the idea of evolution boils down to: the unity of life (all life is connected), the diversity of life, and the match between organisms and their environment can be explained by descent with modification through natural selection (Vermeij, 2015).

Does your Family Make You Smarter?: Nature, Nurture, and Human Autonomy

James R. Flynn

Does your family make you smarter? James R. Flynn presents an exciting new method for estimating the effects of family on a range of cognitive abilities. Rather than using twin and adoption studies, he analyses IQ tables that have been hidden in manuals over the last 65 years, and shows that family environment can confer a significant advantage or disadvantage to your level of intelligence. Wading into the nature vs. nurture debate, Flynn banishes the pessimistic notion that by the age of seventeen, people's cognitive abilities are solely determined by their genes.

May 16, 2016

The Dunning-Kruger ramp

The Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon that people who are incompetent in a certain area often are not aware -and cannot be aware- of just how incompetent they are. A explanation of this counter intuitive effect is the following: when you know little about a subject you do not know how much knowledge you are lacking due to which you are likely to overestimate yourself.

May 10, 2016

In evidence we trust

Jamie Hale, who recently posted an useful guest post on this site (How to study) is also the author of the book In evidence we trust. The need for science, rationality & statistics. It's an interesting and useful book which consists of three chapters plus some appendices.

May 1, 2016

Parents' views of failure predict their childrens' mindsets

A series of studies by Haimovitz & Dweck (2016) suggests how parents influence the mindsets of their children. Their research show that how parents view intelligence does not predict kids' mindsets but how they view failing does. Parents who view failure as debilitating are more focused on achievements than on learning and this seems to increase the likelihood that children will view intelligence as fixed instead of malleable. If you, as a parent, want your child to develop a growth mindset, it seems wise to view them and to talk about them as events from which you can learn. 

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