You Are Not So Smart
Humans and other animals

How we naturally think vs. the scientific method

In the most recent You Are Not So Smart podcast, host David McRaney broadcasts a 2014 lecture he gave at DragonCon about ‘just-so stories’, contrasting how we naturally think with the more formal scientific method.

“Throughout all of our history we kept falling into this giant hole of stupid, and the only way we could climb out of that hole was to create a tool by which we could do that climbing. That tool is of course the scientific method. Without it we get into a lot of trouble, because this is the way we naturally think:

“You have a emotion or an intuition and then you form a biased conclusion (I’m sure you’ve seen this on Facebook before). Then you seek supporting evidence through motivated reasoning, you stop when you think you’ve found enough evidence. That’s actually called in psychology the ‘make-sense stopping rule’. You only question the disconfirmatory evidence; everything else passes through. You argue for your conclusion with logical fallacies and then you feel smug. And then you repeat all that if you get challenged and you avoid all challenges.

“The unnatural way we think is that you have an emotion or intuition, but then you form a hypothesis and you have observation and experimentation to see if it confirms your hypothesis. Then you disconfirm it and if you disconfirm it well enough you can let other people replicate what you’ve done then you debate and you argue and everybody gets together and then based off everything you’ve learned you can form a theory and then you can feel smug.”

I’ve been perfectly guilty of this behaviour myself.

See also: How to sound smart in your TEDx talk

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