How strong is your bullshit detector? And what exactly IS the scientific definition of bullshit?

In this episode we explore both of those concepts as well as what makes a person susceptible to bullshit, how to identify and defend against it, and what kind of people are the most and least likely to be bowled over by bullshit artists and other merchants of feel-good woo.

The problem with sorting out failures and successes is that failures are often muted, destroyed, or somehow removed from sight while successes are left behind, weighting your decisions and perceptions, tilting your view of the world.

That means to be successful you must learn how to seek out what is missing. You must learn what not to do. Unfortunately, survivorship bias stands between you and the epiphanies you seek.

To learn how to combat this pernicious bias, we explore the story of Abraham Wald and the Department of War Math founded during World War II.

Our guest in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is psychologist Laurie Santos who heads the Comparative Cognition Laboratory at Yale University. In that lab, she and her colleagues are exploring the fact that when two species share a relative on the evolutionary family tree, not only do they share similar physical features, but they also share similar behaviors. Psychologists and other scientists have used animals to study humans for a very long time, but Santos and her colleagues have taken it a step further by choosing to focus on a closer relation, the capuchin monkey; that way they could investigate subtler, more complex aspects of human decision making – like cognitive biases.

You’ve likely wondered if the internet is having a negative effect on your brain. Perhaps you’ve thought this after realizing the world wide web now serves as a trusty resource when gaps in your knowledge appear, and over time it, you’ve thought, maybe it might be making you less knowledgeable overall because you habitually head to Google if you don’t know the answers to something, search, click, read a few lines, and then promptly forget the factoid until the next time you need it.

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.