YANSS Podcast – Episode Seven – The Psychology of Common Sense

The Topic: Common Sense

The Guest: Kevin Lyon

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

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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My new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, spends many pages discussing superseded scientific theories and the implications that they bring up – stuff like humors and putting the Earth at the center of universe.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The connection between common sense, superseded scientific theories, and becoming less dumb is the subject for this episode’s podcast.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

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YANSS Podcast – Episode One – The Invisible Gorilla

The Topic: Attention

The Guest: Daniel Simons

The Episode: iTunesDownload - RSS - Soundcloud

The video above demonstrates the Monkey Business Illusion. It’s designed to fool both people who have and have not seen the selective attention test, a video on YouTube with over 5 million views.

The first post at You Are Not So Smart was about inattentional blindness. I had seen the selective attention test and the Test Your Awareness videos that were making the rounds on YouTube, and I knew inattentional blindness would make a great first topic. It is astounding to realize you’ve been lying to yourself about what gets into your brain through your eyeballs.

What is inattentional blindness? It’s missing something right in front of your eyes because you are paying attention to something else. What makes that a great topic for You Are Not So Smart is that this blindness is always part of experience, but you can spend a lifetime without ever knowing it happens. You tend to have an intuition and a belief that you see everything you are facing, and if something out of the ordinary was to happen, it would instantly grab your attention. Not so. Science has revealed you are basically blind to that which you are not attentive, yet your conscious experience and your memories don’t reflect this. That’s the epiphany that slams into your brain when you watch the original invisible gorilla video.

Continue reading

Change Blindness

The Misconception: You are aware of everything coming into your brain from your eyes from moment to moment.

The Truth: The brain can’t keep up the total amount of information coming in from your eyes; your experience from moment to moment is edited for simplicity.

Change blindness is slightly different from inattentional blindness, where you are unable to see things happening just outside your attention. With change blindness, you don’t notice when things around you are altered to be drastically different than they were a moment ago.

You often miss large changes to your visual world from one moment to the next, but that’s not how it feels. It feels like you see everything, at all times, and you believe your memory and your perceptions are based on that totality of experience.

Ok, ready to go mad?

In this demonstration from the Irvine School of Social Sciences, one thing is changed from one photo to the other. You will see them back to back over and over again with a flash of white in between. Try to find it – but I warn you, this takes most people a long time to find.

Once you see, you can never go back to the state when you couldn’t see it.

Reality is generated by the brain based on the inputs coming in from your senses. You don’t get a raw feed from those inputs; instead, you get an edited version.

The best example of this is the person swap.

In an experiment conducted at Harvard, subjects had to approach a man and sign a consent form. He stood behind a tall desk, like at a hotel, and once they signed the form, the man behind the desk ducked under it to put away the form. Another man then stood up and handed them a packet of information. Many people didn’t realize it was a different person.

Don’t think this only works with fast changes. Researchers at the University of Illinois are able to gradually add changes to photos which go unnoticed by most people.

When it comes to seeing changes to the world around you, even big ones, you are not so smart.

Links:

The Invisible Gorilla (I highly recommend this book for further reading on this topic.)

Video of the person swap experiment at Harvard

Video of Derren Brown performing the person swap

Examples of slow changes