YANSS Podcast 034 – After This, Therefore Because of This: Your Weird Relationship with Cause and Effect

The Topic: The Post Hoc Fallacy

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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When I was a boy, I spent my summers with my grandparents. They, like many Southerners, had a farm populated with animals to eat and animals to help. It was everywhere alive with edible plants – fields of corn and cucumbers and peas and butterbeans and peanuts, and throngs of mysterious life from stumps claimed by beds of ants to mushroom fairy rings, living things tending to business without our influence.

Remembering it now, I can see the symmetry of the rows, and the order of the barns, the arrangement of tools, the stockpiles of feed. I remember the care my grandmother took with tomatoes, nudging them along from the soil to the Ball jars she boiled, sealing up the red, seedy swirls under lids surrounded by brass-colored shrink bands. I remember my grandfather erecting dried and gutted gourds on polls so Martins would come and create families above us and we wouldn’t suffer as many mosquito bites when shelling peas under the giant pecan tree we all used for shade.

For me, the wonder of that life, even then, was in how so much was understood about cause and effect, about what was to come if you prepared, took care, made a particular kind of effort. It was as if they borrowed the momentum of the natural world instead of trying to force it one way or the other, like grabbing a passing trolley and hoisting yourself on the back.

This relationship with cause and effect was not perfect, not that I knew that then. In fact, my grandparents had a collection of books about cause and effect that I adored called Foxfire. They looked like encyclopedias, and they were numbered. Foxfire 1, 2, 3, etc. Looking them up just before writing this, I discovered they were actually anthologies of an old Appalachian magazine. An article in the Christian Science Monitor from 1983 and an entry at the Georgia Encyclopedia website both say the contents of the magazines came from interviews with people who were already old in the 1960s, people from around the South who shared folktales and folk knowledge and folk remedies and methods of borrowing that same momentum that my grandparents busied themselves pursuing.

My grandparents considered the Foxfire books correct and accurate and worthy of study, reference, and reverence. They were second only to the Bibles resting beside the beds in several rooms. They only had one worn copy of each of the Foxfire books, but as a whole they had their own shelf, just outside the kitchen. What could you find inside them? Rural tips and tricks to tackle the harsh wilderness. What you would call life hacks today, except concerning moonshine and planting crops. Some advice was great, passed down for generations and finally captured in an interview for the magazine right at the end of other people’s grandparents’ lives. A lot of the advice wasn’t so great, though as a boy I never noticed any suspicion or skepticism among my family. A hacking cough, said one Foxfire book, could be cured by swallowing a wad of local spiderwebs. That one I remembered. Others I didn’t, but they came hurtling back to me once I looked at the contents on Amazon today. I saw entries on “Snake Lore” and faith healing but also sections on how to make soap and butter, and how to build sturdy log cabins. It’s a mix of things that seemed to work. Some of it true wisdom, and a lot of it completely wrong. Those Foxfire books, and the life my grandparents led, was prescientific and irrational, but most of the time it produced results. The bits that are wrong, and downright bizarre, make me smirk while I push up my glasses from behind this computer, but then I remember that the only time my grandparents visited the grocery store was to buy things like milk, beef, and cheese since they no longer had the energy to deal with cattle. Other than that, well until their 70s, they very nearly lived completely off the land, which is something I couldn’t do today.

The Foxfire books, and the lives of the sort of people whose knowledge is captured within, are another testament to how we have always depended on good-enough solutions to the complexities of decisions, judgments, and reasoning. Whether or not the people practicing these techniques for decades and longer knew for sure they had pinpointed the causes to the effects they were seeking, things tended to work out anyway. Do spider webs cure coughs? No. Does your cough get better after you eat them? Yes. It’s no different than the zillions of remedies I see floating on the web right now from wine to chocolate to gluten abstinence and paleolithic dining. We mess up all the time when it comes to cause and effect, but it usually doesn’t lead to enough harm to notice. In general, over many generations, we’ve gotten by because more often than not the system works well. It might not get you to the moon, but it will keep you alive and full of butterbeans. Also, you might be burned as a witch.

In modern times, when the system hasn’t worked out well, it once led to one of my favorite mental pratfalls of all time. A few years ago, Bill Clinton bought and wore in public a magical amulet.

That’s right, magical amulet. There isn’t a single entry in those Foxfire books, not a solitary nugget of folk wisdom my grandparents could have offered up that is any less wacky than the Power Balance Bracelet. A band of silicone with a tiny hologram affixed to the side that, according to the manufacturer, enhances natural energy fields and provides balance to the wearer as he or she comes into resonance with the hologram. The result? Better athletic performance. Well, that’s what the company used to claim, but that was before they lost a $67 million lawsuit and had to publicly state, “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct…” Now the company makes ambiguous claims about “Eastern philosophies.” You can find Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints endorsing the enchanted bracelets of power at the company’s website right now. He prefers the black collection made with “surgical grade silicone.”

The Power Balance bracelets were debunked thanks to scientific research, much of it conducted in Australia and Wales. The results showed that they had no more power than any other bracelet charged with meaning and supported by belief. No doubt, most of the contents of the Foxfire collection have yet to receive a similar level of scrutiny.

Who wore the power bracelets in their heyday? At least one former president, a slew of professional athletes, and one third of my uncles. Enough people to make the company more than $30 million in 2011, according to the Associated Press. Presumably, all of them intelligent, reasonable people who had no problem with the idea of a factory that employs wizards.

Still, the Power Balance bracelet is just another in a long line of magical items and alternative cures that people have fallen for since there have been people, and there will be many more thanks to the post hoc fallacy. After this, therefore because of this – that’s the fallacy. It’s a rule of thumb, a heuristic, that guided my grandparent’s farm, filled the Foxfire books, and for the most part got human beings out of the nomadic lifestyle and into yoga, but it isn’t perfect. Whether you go to the doctor for your cold, or you decide to eat a ball of cobwebs, or eat nothing but grapefruit for a week, your cold will get better. Which one then is the true cure? Maybe all of them. Maybe none. That’s our predicament. We are stuck with this weird brain that’s so bad at pinpointing cause and effect that one of us can run an entire country, give rousing speeches that change the world, yet not possess the skepticism required to prevent him from handing over $30 for a hologram with a magic spell inside.

On this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, you’ll learn a lot more about the Power Balance Bracelet as we explore the post hoc fallacy, and how it leads to all sorts of things from pressing disconnected crosswalk buttons to rubbing your nipples with frozen cabbage.

At the end of the episode we discuss a recent study that suggests men drink so that their smiles become contagious.

NOTE: Some of this content is material researched for and written about in a chapter in my second book You Are Now Less Dumb.

Links 

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Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Alcohol Makes Smiles More “Contagious,” but Only for Men

Sources

• Arabe, Katrina C. “”Dummy” Thermostats Cool Down Tempers, Not Temperatures.” ThomasNet News. Thomas Publishing Company, 11 Apr. 2003. Web. Sept. 2012.

•Associated Press. “Power Balance: Bracelets Don’t Work.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures., 04 Jan. 2011. Web. Sept. 2012. Bathe, Carrlyn. “The Ice Crew’s Lucky Charms.” FOX Sports West. FOX Sports Interactive Media, LLC., 08 Mar. 2012. Web. Sept. 2012.

• Brice, S. R., B. S. Jarosz, R. A. Ames, J. Baglin, and C. Da Costa. “The Effect of Close Proximity Holographic Wristbands on Human Balance and Limits of Stability: A Randomised, Placebo-controlled Trial.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 15.3 (2011): 298-303. Print.

• Callahan, Gerry. “Cheers Wade’s World Back in Town.” Boston Herald 21 May 1993, Sports sec.: 112. Print. Damisch, L., B. Stoberock, and T. Mussweiler. “Keep Your Fingers Crossed!: How Superstition Improves Performance.” Psychological Science 21.7 (2010): 1014-020. Print.

• “Goran Ivanisevic Quotes.” Goran Online. Web. Sept. 2012. Hutson, Matthew. “In Defense of Superstition.” The New York Times 08 Apr. 2012: SR5. NYTimes. The New York Times Company, 06 Apr. 2012 Web.

•Kaptchuk, Ted J., Elizabeth Friedlander, John M. Kelley, M. Norma Sanchez, Efi Kokkotou, Joyce P. Singer, Magda Kowalczykowski, Franklin G. Miller, Irving Kirsch, and Anthony J. Lembo. “Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” PLoS One 5.12 (2010): E15591. Print.

• Lockton, Dan. “Placebo Buttons, False Affordances and Habit-forming.” Design with Intent. WordPress, 10 Jan. 2008. Web. Sept. 2012.

• Luo, Michael. “For Exercise in New York Futility, Push Button.” NYTimes. The New York Times Company, 27 Feb. 2004. Web. Sept. 2012.

• Murdoch, Jason. “Superstitious Athletes.” CBC Sports. CBC, 10 May 2005. Web. Sept. 2012. “Power Balance Band Is Placebo, Say Experts.” BBC News Wales. BBC, 22 Nov. 2010. Web. Sept. 2012.

• “Power Balance Endorsers, Athletes Who Wear Power Balance Bands.” Athlete Promotions. Web. Sept. 2012.

• Sandberg, Jared. “Employees Only Think They Control Thermostat.” WSJ. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 15 Jan. 2003. Web. Sept. 2012.

• Stech, Katy. “Power Balance Sold to Chinese Manufacturer.” WSJ Blogs Bankruptcy Beat. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 11 Jan. 2012. Web. Sept. 2012.

• Tritrakarn, Thara, Jariya Lertakyamanee, Pisamorn Koompong, Suchai Soontrapa, Pradit Somprakit, Anupan Tantiwong, and Sunee Jittapapai.”Both EMLA and Placebo Cream Reduced Pain during Extracorporeal Piezoelectric Shock Wave Lithotripsy with the Piezolith 2300.” Anesthesiology 92.4 (2000): 1049-054. Print.

• “Wade Boggs.” Baseball Library. Ed. Richard Lally. The Idea Logical Company, Inc. Web. Sept. 2012.

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YANSS Podcast 029 – How labels affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with Adam Alter

The Topic: Labels

The Guest: Adam Alter

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Unsweet

I did something this week that I’m sure many people secretly do every day. I stopped, talked to myself for a moment, and checked to see how much slack was in the leash I keep on my tongue.

I was reminded that I need to do that from time to time, or at least I believe that I do, by a bit of news that was passed around for a few days this week. The reports said that one of the government’s most prestigious energy laboratories was working to eradicate the Southern accent – not from the planet, mind you, just from employees who had requested the service.

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YANSS Podcast 027 – The New Science Communicators with Joe Hanson

The Topic: Science Communication

The Guest: Joe Hanson

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

I recently collaborated with Joe Hanson of the YouTube channel It’s Okay to be Smart and helped him write an episode about pattern recognition.

The video is all about how our hyperactive order-generating brains can lead to us to incorrect assumptions, and how those assumptions can lead to widespread, social phenomena causing millions of people to do completely ridiculous and futile things, sometimes for generations. In our video, Joe talks about blowing in Nintendo cartridges to get them to work (totally pointless, and damaging), but you can substitute that behavior with a lot of other silly things that we did until science came along and tested to see if we were wrong.

I thought it would be great to bring him on the show and interview him in an episode all about the new science communicators, the people who grew up with Carl Sagan and Bill Nye, who are now watched by millions of people online as they explain everything from why some sounds are scary to whether or not Spanish delivers more information per minute than does English. Most of those YouTube channels get more viewers per episode than any FOX News program. Many YouTube science shows, numbers-wise, are far more popular than Game of Thrones.

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YANSS Store Fully Restocked

Confirmation Bias T-Shirt CloseupMany of you have been asking when the confirmation bias t-shirts would be available again, and I’m happy to inform you that day is…today!

The YANSS merch table is now fully stocked with all items. You can check it out here: YANSS Merch Table

Also, in case you didn’t know, I can sign your Kindle (or other e-book) versions of both of my books. Just head to my page at Authorgraph here: My Page at Authorgraph

And…if you would like a free, signed bookplate for your physical copy, and you live in the USA, you can get one by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to…

Signed Bookplate
P.O. Box 15792
Hattiesburg, MS 39404

…and I’ll send you back one of these with my scribbles on it:

YANSS Bookplate

 

Thanks for all the support. The store was sold out because of you, and that’s fantastic. Thank you!

YANSS Podcast 017 – Tim Farley explains the potential harm in using alternative medicine

The Topic: Alternative Medicine

The Guest: Tim Farley

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Dr. Terminus, the snake oil salesman from Disney's "Pete's Dragon"

Dr. Terminus, the snake oil salesman from Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”

Where is the line between regular medicine and alternative medicine? Are Eastern medicine and Western medicine truly at odds, and if so, who is right and who is wrong? What harm is there in using complementary or integrative treatments in an effort to improve wellness?

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YANSS Podcast 014 – Melanie C. Green and how stories can change beliefs and behaviors

The Topic: Narratives

The Guest: Melanie C. Green

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Falcor the Luck Dragon from the Universal Pictures film, The Neverending Story

Falcor the Luck Dragon from the Universal Pictures film, The Neverending Story

In this episode we discuss the power narratives have to affect our beliefs and behaviors with Melanie C. Green, a psychologist who studies the persuasive power of fiction.

According to Nielsen, the TV ratings company, the average person in the United States watches about 34 hours of television a week. That’s 73 days a year. Over the course of a lifetime, the average American can expect to spend a full decade lost in the trance spell that only powerful narratives can cast over the human mind.

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New York City’s Placebo Buttons and The Post Hoc Fallacy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpYP7tfqr8g&feature=youtu.be

I’m so excited to reveal the latest book trailer for my new book, You Are Now Less Dumb. Here is a link to learn more about the book.

Once again, the fantastic production crew at Plus3 Video created this wonderful video. You can learn more about them at this link.

You can see all the videos we’ve made together right here on the YANSS Youtube Channel: link to videos.

The video is inspired by a chapter in the book which mentions placebo buttons, a topic covered here on YANSS a few years back which you can read about at this link.

YANSS Podcast – Episode Eight – The Psychology of Video Games

The Topic: Video Games

The Guest: Jamie Madigan

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Last of Us Friend or Foe

A scene from “The Last of Us”

“The Last of Us” is a video game, a work of interactive art, and a question will arise in the back of your mind while playing, “What would I do in this situation?” and the answer will make you feel emotions no other art form can elicit.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, 20 years after the fall of mankind, in a world nature has mostly reclaimed, where resources are few and trust is scarce. Hope is the commodity in shortest supply. Most everyone has given up on rebuilding the old world. This is just how it is now. Every encounter with strangers pings that most primal of judgments under uncertainty: “Is this a potential friend or foe?”

Familiar? Sure, it’s a theme being explored all over in fiction. Something in the zeitgeist has us fretting over these things again, but in a game you have the opportunity to actually test yourself in a virtual reality, to see what you would do when the stakes are as high as possible. Would you trust others? Would you help strangers? Would you kill to survive?

In addition, “The Last of Us” explores something the gaming world calls ludonarrative dissonance. Many modern games have detailed stories with great writing and well-acted scenes interspersed between what amounts to bursts of mass murder. It can make a player feel like his or her agency in the world has been stolen by the storyteller, that the characters you are asked to portray live in two realities, one you control and one you do not. This can feel really off-putting when the characters are jaunty, smarmy, and noble in the cutscenes, but then you are asked to use those people to do terrible things. In an effort to solve this problem, Naughty Dog, the developers of “The Last of Us”, crafted an experience where you and the character feel justified when pushed to do harm, but afterward you, the gamer, feel disgusted with yourself and horrified by the power of the situation to change your behavior and shift your moral center. You find yourself quickly learning to avoid violence – a behavior I was astonished to see evoked in myself inside a game world, and was thrilled to experience. That’s something you won’t get watching “Breaking Bad.”

Watch a teaser trailer showing a friend-or-foe scenario here: Link

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In this episode of the YANSS podcast, we explore games and their potential to reveal our self delusions. I interview Jamie Madigan, the curator of psychologyofgames.com, who writes about the behaviors and cognitions that games both exploit and uncover. It’s a great interview. We discuss everything from the motivational nudging in “Candy Crush Saga” to the power of endowed progress when endorsing people on LinkedIn. Please forgive us for geeking out so hard during it. I promise, non-gamers will learn plenty in this episode. Links to the things mentioned in the episode are at the bottom of this post.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Violet Sinnarkar who submitted a recipe for white chocolate oatmeal cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

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White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Links:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Boing Boing Podcasts

Psychology of Games

Papers, Please

Spent

Newsgaming

Underground Railroad Game

The Walking Dead 

Narco Guerilla 

The Last of Us

Candy Crush Youtube Video 1

Candy Crush Youtube Video 2

Candy Crush Youtube Video 3

Candy Crush Youtube Video 4

The study concerning the cognitive load of poverty

My new book: You Are Now Less Dumb – available now!

bookstackScreen Shot 2013-07-29 at 9.51.41 PMSelf delusion makes you human, but you can do something about it. Delusion, that is. You’re stuck with the human thing.

That’s the tagline for my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” which you can find in bookstores everywhere right now, and it’s an attempt to explain that my second book is very different from my first.

When I was doing interviews for my first book, I kept getting asked variations of the same question: “How can we stop being so deluded?” My answer was almost always that you couldn’t, that you were stuck with these cognitive biases, logical fallacies, and weird heuristics. I wanted to describe not prescribe. But, after a while, that approach started to bother me, so when I started writing the new book I tried writing something new – advice.

Sure, you can’t remove these things from your brain. Sure, everyone shares similar flawed perceptions and biased cognitions. But that doesn’t mean you are powerless to their influences. It just means you shouldn’t pretend like they don’t exist. Once you stop doing that, you can easily rearrange your life in all sorts of ways to avoid stumbling over your own brain. In my new book, you’ll not only learn about 17 new forms of self delusion, but you’ll see how to keep them from making a mess of things in your life, your job, and the institutions and communities you care about.

Early on I write, “You are not so smart, but there are some concrete, counterintuitive, and fascinating ways to become less dumb.” After that, I take you on a fun, bizarre, flabbergasting ride through the most twisted up and difficult to notice parts of your mind. It’s pretty badass, and I think you’ll love it.

Thank you so, so much for all the support and interest. I love writing these posts and recording these podcasts, and I especially love creating these books. Drop me a line when you’re done with the new book and let me know what you think.

GET THE BOOK

Amazon IndieBound –  B&N – BAM iTunes – Google – Audible

GET A FREE SIGNED BOOKPLATE

Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Signed Bookplate | P.O. Box 15792 | Hattiesburg, MS 39404…and you’ll get a signed bookplate back in the mail.

GET YOUR E-BOOK SIGNED 

If you have an e-book you would like signed, go to this link.

READ AN EXCERPT 

Head to Big Think to read a portion of the chapter on: The Common Belief Fallacy

WATCH THE TRAILER

 

YANSS Podcast – Episode Seven – The Psychology of Common Sense

The Topic: Common Sense

The Guest: Kevin Lyon

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

laserreeve

Superman’s heat vision, from “Superman,” courtesy Warner Bros.

(There is still time to enter the preorder contest and win a shirt or a signed book: details here)

How would you define common sense?

I like the American Heritage dictionary’s definition: “Sound judgment not based on specialized knowledge; native good judgment.” I like it because it’s describing something that doesn’t really exist, at least not in such a laudable form as that definition suggests. Faith in, and respect for, common sense is something that this entire You Are Not So Smart project is devoted to squashing.

Your common sense is informed by imperfect inputs decoded through biases and heuristics defended by logical fallacies stored in corrupted memories that are unpacked through self-serving narratives. Native good judgment? Well, sure, sometimes, but there’s a reason why we had to invent the scientific method. Native judgment is pretty unreliable.

My new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, spends many pages discussing superseded scientific theories and the implications that they bring up – stuff like humors and putting the Earth at the center of universe. You can read an excerpt here at Big Think: The Common Belief Fallacy.

The connection between common sense, superseded scientific theories, and becoming less dumb is the subject for this episode’s podcast. I interview Kevin Lyon, a biology teacher and friend who is one of those people who is so smart that you feel yourself becoming a better person just listening to him ramble. I think you’ll love this interview.

Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies

Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Cody Johnson who submitted a recipe for fudgy oatmeal cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Extramission Belief in College Students Study

The Cookie Recipe

10-Hour eye laser battle at Everything is Terrible

Interactive vitamin infographic from Information is Beautful

The Vitamin Myth at The Atlantic