What Seemed Like Perfect Reasoning Utterly Failed

photograph by Dingske
Does warm water sometimes freeze faster than cold water when placed in the same conditions? "Absolutely no way," I said, a mere minute after I heard the claim. "People sometimes claim that NASA faked the moon landing too," I thought to myself. I pointed out why this claim is impossible. As warm water cools it must eventually reach the same temperature that the cool water started at. From that point on, the warm water will behave just like the cool water, but it will have taken the warm water a ...
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Accepting Your Error Rate

No matter how intelligent, rational, or knowledgeable you may be, you are going to be wrong pretty regularly. And you'll be wrong far more often than pretty regularly when dealing with complex topics like politics, people or philosophy. Even if you've freed yourself from thinking in terms of true and false dichotomies, and made the effort to convert your beliefs to probabilities or degrees of belief, you'll still be wrong by way of assigning high probabilities to false propositions. Most pe...
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How Journalism Distorts Reality

Journalism provides us with important information about what's going on in the world. But when you consider the incentives that journalists have, combine that with their usual lack of scientific training, and add in the constraints of the medium in which they work, serious distortions of reality can result. Many journalists produce excellent work. But others leave you less informed after reading their articles than before you began. What causes journalistic distortion? 1. Equal time to eac...
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Don’t Always Desire Your Desires

When we reflect on the many things that we could have, some will produce feelings of desire. But when we take an extra moment to reflect on these desires themselves, we find some to be undesirable. The desire to fit in with the crowd may be accompanied by a contrary desire to be unconcerned by what other people think. Or we might long to be reunited with an ex, but feel averse to having those feelings. When our desires and our desires about these desires come in conflict, how can we decide wh...
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The Seven Causes of Disagreement

zebras thinkstock for the seven causes of disagreement pretty high res
There are an incredible range of subjects that people disagree about, but only a small number of core reasons that people disagree. When we encounter complex and difficult to resolve disputes, it can be helpful to break them down in terms of these reasons. This process can help give us insight into what is preventing a consensus from being reached. Disagreements can be caused by: 1. Facts. People have access to different information. One person has studied physics, another hasn't. One has ...
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How Great We Are

Most of us know we are great. We easily see our own potential, goodness, and areas of skill. We're sure we have strong justifications for our behaviors and beliefs. When things go wrong for us, it usually isn't fundamentally our fault. When things go well, we know we deserve the credit. Just ask people. In a poll of high school seniors, only 2% thought they were below average in leadership ability, and 25% believed they were in the top 1% of ability to get along with others (note: this survey...
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Your Beliefs as a Temple

Your beliefs form something like a temple. The temple has many columns, rooms, and towers. The columns are facts and reasons that support the rooms. The rooms of the temple represent your major beliefs. The towers correspond to beliefs that build on each other. For example, you have rooms corresponding to aspects of your moral philosophy. On top of these rooms, supported by your moral philosophy, are rooms corresponding to your political philosophy. On top of these are still other rooms, corr...
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Surprised? Update your model.

In order to make predictions, your brain must have a model of reality. This model is necessarily much simpler than reality itself. To see why, imagine that you are about to drop a baseball from waist height. Your brain can't possibly know enough about the atoms composing that baseball and the air around it to simulate what will happen at the atomic level. And even if your brain did have accurate knowledge about the atoms, using information at such a fine a level of detail would be extremely comp...
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