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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Do We Know Why We Act?

Looking back on our decisions, we generally feel as though we can explain them. Why did we hire that candidate instead of this one? Because he was clearly more qualified for the job. Why did we go on a date with that person and not the other one? Because he or she seemed nicer. Why did we sentence that criminal to a harsher sentence than this other one? Because she committed a more damaging crime. If we are making our decisions for rational, well thought out reasons, we should be able to explain...
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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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Viewing Your Time As Money

Should I wait in line to get this free mug? Should I walk to dinner rather than taking a taxi? Should I drive an extra fifteen minutes to go to the cheaper grocery store? Should I keep reading reviews for another twenty minutes to make sure I've really found the best hot water bottle that $10 can buy? These questions can be quite difficult to answer without a framework for valuing our time, especially since considerations of this sort tend to trigger cognitive biases. To figure out how much w...
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The Interplay Between Your Reason and Emotions

It can sometimes be useful to think of yourself as consisting of multiple systems. You have an emotional system that constantly processes your sensory input and thoughts, and produces emotions like fear, anger, happiness and contempt based on this input. You also have a reasoning system, which is what you use when you are reasoning, planning, analyzing and consciously predicting. But the operations of these two systems are not independent. In fact, they each have the power to alter the operation...
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