In psychology they call thinking that you see the world as it truly is, free from bias or the limitations of your senses, naive realism.

According to our guest in this episode, famed psychologist Lee Ross, naive realism also leads you to believe you arrived at your opinions, political or otherwise, after careful, rational analysis through unmediated thoughts and perceptions. In other words, you think you have been mainlining pure reality for years, and like Gandalf studying ancient texts, your intense study of the bare facts is what has naturally led to your conclusions.

In a way, you can simply will yourself into a new physical form – that is if you use your will to routinely move heavy things, run around, or eat fewer tacos.

Just as you can change your body at the atomic level by lifting weights, exercising, or eating differently, you can willfully alter your brain by performing another physical act: thinking in a certain way.

Reframing is a psychological tool that just plain works. It’s practical, simple, and with practice and repetition it often leads to real change in people with a variety of thinking problems.

It works because we rarely question our own interpretations, the meanings we construct when examining a set of facts, or our own introspections of internal emotional states. So much of the things the anxiety and fear we feel when anticipating the future is just the result of plucking from a grab bag of best guesses and assumptions, shaky models of reality that may or may not be accurate and will likely pan out much differently than we predict.

Over the years, when most patients have first met psychiatrist Michael I. Bennett, they have tended to believe they would soon to get to know a trusted confidant who would sit quietly, listen intently, and eventually deliver something he says is scientifically impossible: a way to make all their bad feelings go away.

“I’d say, ‘Well, what’s your goal with this problem?’ explains Bennett. “And they would say, ‘Of course, it’s to feel better. It’s to improve it. It’s to solve it,’ and I’d be essentially saying, ‘Fuck that! That’s not going to happen.'”

A few days after Hurricane Katrina erased the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I traveled down there in a truck with my uncle and aunt-in-law to help them salvage what they could from their home.

They lived close to the beach, just off the highway that runs parallel to the ocean through Gulfport, Biloxi, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and Waveland. Katrina ravaged them all, tossing boats into neighborhoods, trees into houses, and houses into the streets. At the minimum, if you lived there, your home took in a few feet of the Gulf of Mexico leaving behind a crusty imprint on the lower half of your walls and deposits of goop on your toilets and in your bathtub. Looking at the imprint, you could rewind the events in your head based on the height of the water line. Beneath that line, everything was ruined, all piled up in the kitchen or the living room or in a hallway closet through some strange quirk of physics.

Before we had names for them or a science to study their impact, the people who could claim the most expertise on biases, fallacies, heuristics and all the other recently popularized quirks of human reasoning were scam artists, con artists, and magicians.

On this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we discuss the folk practitioners of cognitive science with magician and scam expert Brian Brushwood. In the conversation, we explore a wide-range of ideas from how card tricks can be a gateway to better critical thinking to why most psychics end up tricking themselves into believing in their own bullshit. We also discuss why people fall for scams of all sizes, how to avoid them, and why most magicians can spot a fraudster a mile away.