Why We’re Wrong A Lot of the Time -- and Why It Matters Released by Rankin Books

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Four Ways to Develop Wisdom. A new book identifies the default flaws of the human mind, their drastic impact on society -- and what to do about them.

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382 Years of progress

"Assumptions are the malware of your mind."

Most people believe that their perceptions are generally accurate, their memory is reliable and they generally have enough of the “facts” to make a sound judgment. However, a lot of the evidence suggest that’s not the case and we typically fool ourselves into believing we are right.

The recently released book I Think Therefore I Am Wrong: A Guide to Bias, Political Correctness, Fake News and the Future of Mankind addresses the many issues that stem from our faulty thinking. The book first explores how the human mind works and shows that for the most part human beings aren’t logical. Critical thinking requires a lot of effort and it is easier to go with first impressions that provide consistency and emotional comfort.

“People aren’t logical they are psychological, often with the emphasis on the psycho,” says author Dr. Howard Rankin who has spent the best part of his career as a psychologist and coach with expertise in cognitive neuroscience.

Today we see denial, distortion, and bias that are polarizing and threatening our society.

Most people only want to address issues superficially but problems are very complex, almost too complex for the human brain.

The British statistician George Box said, "Essentially, all models are wrong, some are useful.”

“Of course, he was talking about scientific models not runway superstars. Essentially, however, all thoughts are wrong, some are useful. Wrong in the sense that we classify most sense impressions very simplistically and judge them the same way. This is the Stoic position: the data might not be perfect but they still have usefulness,” writes Dr. Rankin in I Think Therefore I Am Wrong.

Unpeeling back the layers of knowledge and digging deeper into a problem are the signs of progress, assuming of course people are open-minded and capable enough to evaluate the evidence. Part of the issue today, is that almost everyone is exposed to the core topics but are unwilling or incapable of looking at the evidence from different perspectives. In a complex world, it is easier and more comfortable to stick with what makes you feel good, rather than accept a change to your narratives and ideas. We are story-tellers invested in emotional comfort and energy-saving strategies, like superficial thinking. And we don’t like change.

The internet not only offers this exposure to massive amounts of “knowledge” but also offers social proof to almost any argument or idea. There’s always someone out there who agrees with you.

Rankin is certainly not the first writer to point out that humans often use cognitive biases to defend their own positions and avoid critical thinking or what he calls the “deep dive.” Daniel Kahneman’s excellent book Thinking: Fast and Slow is a great starting point for the exploration of thinking. But he and other writers seem to dismiss the significance of the shift towards egocentrism. Rankin points out not just how and why that happens but also the serious implications in a complex world. He examines several critical fields like education, health, and law, to shine the light on how cognitive bias, binary thinking and myths inhibit effective practice and function in virtually every sphere of human activity.

Some of the book is very relevant for the upcoming holidays. In researching some of Einstein’s work on relativity, the author came up with his own version: Rankin’s Theory of Relatives which states that when family members come to stay, space shortens and time lengthens. Which raises the question of how do you cope with people with different views in a world where respectful debate has been replaced with reality show emotionalism?

The Importance of Values
Rankin stresses the critical importance of moral values in shaping open-mindedness, critical thinking and wisdom.

“Moral values aren’t just about being a “good” person, they train the brain to be less impulsive and more open-minded. Traits, like forgiveness, mercy, patience and tolerance can come in very handy, not just during family holidays but in life. It’s why all the sages of the past have stressed the need for these traits: they aren’t just about morality, they are about self-efficacy and wisdom,” says Rankin.

Rankin also references the downside of the internet, which allows anyone to post views and opinions and thus influence others with views that can be downright dangerous not just to political stability but personal health and function. And while the internet might provide the opportunity for learning, it often has the reverse effect of highlighting ignorance and even deliberately undermining society.

Worrying Data About Americans
The book quotes statistics from The Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (Piaac), a test administered to 16 to 65 year-olds in 24 developed countries. These data showed that…

“The mean numeracy proficiency scores of 16-65 year-olds in the US is significantly below average.”

“In literacy, US adults do okay: the average score across all 24 countries was 273, and the average US adult clocked in at 272, coming in 13th place. In numeracy, things were bleaker: US adults scored 257, significantly below the average of 269, putting them behind Cyprus, Poland, Estonia and the Slovak Republic for an 18th place finish.”

“In math, Americans with a high school diploma performed about the same as high school dropouts in other countries.”

“In digital problem-solving, US adults came dead last, with a score of 274 compared with an average of 283.”

“What’s worse, the US has a larger share of low performers in every single area.”

These issues speak to the need to start educating children early about critical thinking and the ability to spot unreliable and false information, an effort that has already started in some countries like Finland where Jussi Toivanen, the Finnish chief communications specialist for the prime minister’s office, said:

“It’s not just a government problem, the whole society has been targeted. We are doing our part, but it’s everyone’s task to protect the Finnish democracy. The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

The importance of educating about cognitive bias and encouraging critical thinking has never been more important. We are seeing the impact everyday of an inability and an unwillingness of people to step outside of their comfortable narratives. It will effect every major issue that mankind faces -- see climate change.

The book also shares information from experts in the collapse of societies which shows some common elements that we’re facing today: unequal wealth distribution, climate change and denial, and the normalcy bias, which is the tendency to believe that things will pretty much stay the same.

Four Ways To Become Wiser
I Think Therefore I Am Wrong includes a workbook called How Not To Think, which provides some tools and tips to manage consciousness more effectively and be more open-minded. These include such tools as mindfulness and meditation, as well as understanding the thinking process and the inherent biases in human thinking as well as common flaws like binary thinking. It also encourages readers to develop 20 moral values that are key to emotional intelligence and wisdom

Dr. Rankin is also the host of the How Not To Think podcast that looks at the biases, myths and misinformation that plague every field of human endeavor.

I Think Therefore I Am Wrong is available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle format.

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Dottie DeHart

Howard Rankin
@howard_rankin
since: 06/2013
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