How To Be A Critical Thinker And Develop Your Mental Powers Part 1

In order to get the maximum profit out of the text below, you will need to spend some time with it. You should also do the exercises, because they will practically demonstrate some of these effects on your own mind. You can click on and read the article on meta-programs before, but don’t have to, as this article does not presuppose any initial knowledge about psychology. Since the original post I wrote seemed too long, I have decided to split it into 3 parts: Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here.

When you look at the clouds in the sky during the day, what do you see? Do you see shapes in the clouds that resemble faces, animals or objects? If you are like most humans, then you probably do. At night, when you look at the sky, what do you see?

The stars most likely seem to be as if they were glued in the sky in an orderly way. You are not the only one to think that. Ever since prehistory, humans have been seeing patterns in the night sky, which they grouped into different types of constellations.

600px-Big_dipper_from_the_kalalau_lookout_at_the_kokee_state_park_in_hawaii

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, then one of the major patterns in the sky for you is the Big Dipper, which in turn forms a part of the Big Bear constellation. Most people, when they look at the night sky see a pattern, a link, between these different stars. This pattern seems as if it were forming the shape of a dipper. Some even incorporate this pattern into a larger formation that supposedly resembles a bear.

However this is all a matter of perception and the formation of patterns by the human mind where they don’t really exist in reality. The mind automatically tries to connect the dots and form some sort of an order out of chaos.

Light travels at a constant speed and the light from the stars that we see in our night sky has been travelling to us for hundreds of years. What we are seeing is how the stars looked in their past. The stars in the Big Dipper are actually at various distances away from our planet.

Megrez, the closest star to us (but also the dimmest), is about 58 light years away from us, while Alkaid, the furthest star, is around 101 light years away. If you were looking at them from space, you would never be able to form any pattern between these different stars.

The human mind is very good at seeing patterns. It tries to understand reality by creating different patterns and connecting things. That is its main purpose. Sometimes it sees patterns in randomness, meaning that a lot of times we tend to create patterns even if they don’t really exist.

That is how a lot of different conspiracy theories come to exist. People make connections between different disparate events and come up with a storyline tying these different things together.

In 1976, the Viking 1 orbiter took several photos of the Martian surface and sent them back to Earth. When people started looking at these images, they noticed that one of them contains something that has a very close resemblance to a human face.

Martian_face_viking_cropped

Many people started coming up with stories that this proves the existence of a Martian civilization and that there is a great government cover-up to hide this knowledge from the general population.

The pictures taken were done at a relatively low resolution as per 1970s technology. However since then, a series of spacecraft with more advanced technology has orbited the Martian surface and taken pictures of the same region.

The same feature (located in the Cydonia region of Mars) actually looks like this at higher resolution:

280px-Mars_face

Humans are natural storytellers and see the world as a long series of causes and effects. There is a natural tendency to connect different events into a longer narrative.

The human mind is a complex instrument that allows you to make sense of the world and can sometimes give you great insight into how things work and what you need to do, but it is not perfect. In fact, at times it can fail spectacularly without you even realizing.

The Test

Take out a piece of paper and note down what you think are the answers to these questions:

1) If you flip a coin and 7 times consecutively it has landed heads, what is the probability of it landing tails on the 8th flip?

2) If you flip a coin and it has landed heads on the first toss, but tails on the next 4 tosses, what is the probability that it will land tails on the next toss?

3) If you flip a coin and it has landed heads, tails, heads, tails, what is the probability of it landing heads on the next toss?

4) Did the heaviest person ever weight more or less than 1 000 kilograms?

5) How many kilograms do you think, he weighted? Give a precise number.

Now that you have your answers, think a bit about the assumptions that you made when you came up with them. How did your brain come up with the answer and what was the thinking process behind it?

coin toss

How do you think you did on the test above? Do you think you got the correct answers? Here are the answers:…wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…50%, 50%, 50%, less, 635 kg.

How did you do? Did you get the answers correct? Don’t worry if you didn’t, since a large percentage of the people doing similar tests also come up with the wrong answer. This is due to different logical fallacies, which I will describe below.

The last two questions deal with the heaviest person ever. His name was Jon Brower Minnoch and he weighted 635 kilograms at his peak! However the two questions were not meant for you to guess the correct number, but instead to demonstrate different factors that can affect your thinking process and result in logical fallacies. This particular effect is called the anchoring effect. I will explain it in more detail in a bit.

The Thinking Process And Logical Fallacies

Most impressions and thoughts arise in your brain without you consciously knowing how they got there. Much of the mental work that goes into coming up with answers is done somewhere deep inside your brain. This then often pops up as your intuition, a gut feeling, which you then use to interpret the world and make decisions.

However a lot of that thinking is wrong. This is because much of what you see and hear is not a direct recording of the world, but a reconstruction. Your senses cloud much of the world away from you, in order to focus on certain things that they judge important.

For example, you might be in a crowded room and there are many conversations going on, but even if you try, you will have a hard time zooming in on even two conversations at the same time. It’s the same in the wild. Our brains were designed for survival and that’s how they evolved. The brain filters out all the things that don’t matter and focuses on a few key pieces of information.

This is positive in that it helps us survive. If we did not filter out things, then we might be overwhelmed with too much information and miss out something essential. However this type of set-up also has its negatives in that it is not a true representation of the world around us, but only a selection.

The brain is constantly filtering, comparing and rearranging information, which is all then woven into a certain narrative. In order to do its job more efficiently, the brain uses what is called heuristics, basically rules of thumb or a short-cut method to arrive at a certain conclusion.

Heuristics can be of great help in many cases when you need a quick answer, however many times they lead you to the wrong answer. Humans operate within a bounded rationality and can often be very irrational. All of this results in many logical fallacies and biases which further cloud your thinking.

Even much of what you remember is often wrong, as it is only a reconstruction. The brain saves a memory, but often ends up further working on it, altering it and fusing it with other memories or thoughts. So a memory is often not a good judge of what happened in the past.

There are several types of logical fallacies that humans often engage in:

1) Availability Bias

An availability bias happens when you overestimate the prevalence or likelihood of events happening, based on the fact that you can readily come up with an example of the event. This then can overwhelm your thinking process and lead you to false conclusions.

For example, recently there was the news of the Germanwings crash, where the co-pilot took over the plane and crashed it on purpose. Just think of how that news made you feel, especially if you had to take a plane?

Most people got kind of apprehensive about taking a plane, even though statistically, plane crashes are quite rare. It is more likely, that you will die of other more frequent causes such as a stroke. However, since the plane crash was covered so much in the media, it gave you the subconscious feeling that flying a plane is dangerous.

The same thing happens with other types of scares, such as shark attacks or terrorism, but also other things. Marketers often use this bias as a basis of their campaigns. This is linked to the concept of priming, where they expose you to a certain product so many times, that it gets stuck in your mind, which then leads you to recall it more easily.

For example, you might be exposed (or primed) to a lot of commercials for Product X as a laundry detergent. Then when you go to a store and are looking for a laundry detergent, you will immediately come up with Product X as the first example of laundry detergents.

2) Hindsight Bias

This is the bias of backwards rationalizing an event as being very predictable, when in reality it wasn’t. People have a tendency to think that they predicted something happening before it happened, when in reality they didn’t.

For example, there were several tests done where people were told to write down their predictions for certain events. When that event happened, the researchers went back and asked those same people to recall what they had thought about the eventual outcome of that event before it happened.

A large percentage of the time, these people responded that the outcome was predictable and they thought it would happen that way, even if in reality before the event, they had noted down totally different predictions.

3) Confirmation Bias

Many people have already formed preconceptions about certain things or notions. Confirmation bias refers to the fact that people tend to search for information to confirm their own preconceptions. They focus on the information and interpret it in a way that fits their bias.

4) Framing Effects

This effects describes the impact that presenting the same information in different ways can have on the perception of a person of that information.

For example let’s look at these statements:

The drug has a 90% success rate.

The drug fails in 1 out of 10 cases.

Your brain probably had different reactions to each of these statements. In the first case, it had a positive reaction as the example was framed in a positive way, and in the second case it had a negative reaction, as the example was framed in a negative way.

So if you are an advertiser working for the company, you would phrase your commercial using the first phrase. If you were the competitor and were trying to discredit the product, then you would use the second sentence.

The exact same information if presented in different ways, can have a different effect on the same person. This is a powerful principle to keep in mind.

5) Affect Heuristic

This heuristic uses as its basis the powerful effect that a person’s emotions have on their thinking. It’s a mental short-cut that allows people to make a decision quickly based on feeling a certain emotion such as fear or pleasure.

This has a positive effect, when the sudden rush of fear can make you jump out of danger, but in many other cases, emotions can seriously cloud your judgement.

Click here to continue to Part 2

Read more: Personality Types: Why Are You The Way You Are?

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2 comments on “How To Be A Critical Thinker And Develop Your Mental Powers Part 1”

  1. This blog is a great find! Not sure if this is a coincidence. I just recieved an email from an author who was talking about confirmation bias. That must be you! Gotcha 🙂

    Your article is mentally stimulating and brain-refreshing. An interestng take on the thinking process.

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