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Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking Paperback – 20 May 2006

4 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (20 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591024080
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591024088
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.4 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 580,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Our early days on the African savannah granted us little opportunity to sort out options. Threats or meal opportunities meant information had to be quickly sifted, arranged and acted upon - almost unconsciously. Weighing various elements to determine the "best choice" may have meant a lost meal - or a lost life. Consequently, we've developed ways of selectively choosing what we consider "important", even at the cost of ignoring realistic details. Reinforced by our relating events to others - "story-telling" - we've come to believe what others tell us through narratives. Those beliefs drive our decisions.

Thomas Kida explains this legacy in his study of our thinking habits and how we view choices today. A consultant in teaching the decision-making process, Kida is adept at narrative. His focus in this book is on practical matters - can you "beat the Market"? What methods can readily cure our ills? How do we buy an auto - by studying things like "Consumer Reports" or researching repair records - or do we rely on a friend's tales? Do we plan outings on realistic weather forecasts? Kida examines these and other daily situations to reveal how flawed our basis for a decision may be.

He summarises our foundations for choice, and characterises them into six categories. The first is the reliance on stories, followed by our reluctance accept new information that challenges what we've learned from them. Once a belief is in place, it remains entrenched. That situation often leads to belief in the unusual. The mundane is scorned if stacked against the more notable, whether latter is plausible or not. "Disprove it!" we declare even when our cherished notion has evidence to support it. Those firmly held ideas allow us to keep our thinking simple.
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Comment 14 of 15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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There is some very good stuff in this book on tools for critical thinking. But there is also a rather worrying example of exactly the kind of sloppy thinking Kida is supposed to be warning us against. He spends considerable space on the gambler's fallacy, and then launches into a discussion of the unpredictability of the Stock Market, and how research has shown that there is no evidence that highly paid fund managers add any value to an investment fund, and that over the long haul, no funds significantly beat the index.

All this may well be right, but Kida's error lies in what he does with these data:

"Oftentimes investors move their money into a fund that has experienced good recent performance. However, statistcs tell us that we have regression to the mean. That is, if a fund is currently outperforming the market, its performance is likely to drop in the future to bring it back to average. And so, if we buy into a fund right after it has posted recent gains, we're likely to be in for a fall. In effect, going after strong past performance often means we take money out of funds that are likely to rebound, and put it into funds that are ready to drop. "

Kida has misunderstood regression towards the mean, and has committed an error known as the gambler's fallacy (which he had already discussed in an earlier chapter).

Let us suppose that fund manager's are indeed irrelevent, and that a fund has a 50/50 chance of underperforming or overperforming the market each year. If this assumption is indeed correct - and this is indeed Kida's argument, then whether the fund will outperform or underperform the market this year is entirely unconnected with whether the fund outperformed or underperfomed the market last year.
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6 Comments 13 of 18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I was introduced to this book through a friend referall after I expressed a desire to become more intelligent with respect to making beliefs and decisions in everyday life.

This book SHOULD BE READ BY EVERYONE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE. I cannot emphasise that point enough as if everyone did and realised their mistakes in common thinking we would alleviate alot of our problems.

This book is about the scientific method, about critical thinking. How our beliefs are formed through what we take as the truth and the likely pitfalls of our evolutionary induced cognition. It starts by presenting 6 common mistakes everyone makes in thinking and then throughout the book points to examples such as Aliens, Ghosts, predicting stock market trends, superstition etc. It is written in a wholy entertaining style and VERY DIFFICULT to put down!

This book hasn't gained enough popularity and that saddens me as it is a vital peice of literature that no single human being should do without!
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Format: Paperback
This book is not a scientivic review of literature concerning human bias but it offers an comprehensive view on human mistakes. The 6 topics provide a nice framework for error- detection and it encouriages me for further reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x917529c0) out of 5 stars 81 reviews
217 of 221 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9175f420) out of 5 stars Captivating! 2 Aug. 2006
By The Spinozanator - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Wright's "Moral Animal:" "...human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their ignorance of the misuse." Although this book is not about the morality of our decision-making, it is completely about how we delude ourselves about ourselves, our situations, and others.

Borrowing heavily from Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, Skeptic Magazine, and Skeptic Inquirer, Kida starts off with standard issue debunking of pseudoscience. Soon he zeroes in and concentrates on the faulty ways we reach assessments. These methods worked quite well in our small tribe hunting-gathering days, but nowadays we could do better.

At the risk of losing half the readers of this review, I'll spill the beans. Kida believes in statistics, whereas people evolved to believe in anecdotes. People confidently rely on intuition, then remember the hits and ignore the misses. People seek to confirm what they already believe and gloss over contradictory evidence. People rarely consider the role of chance and coincidence, preferring to give credit to metaphysical causes. People consistently misinterpret events to bolster their deluded self-images. People oversimplify complex situations, tending to shun the gray areas for black or white assessments. Finally, our memories are the pits - remolding and enhancing the original memory more and more as time goes by.

For the above data, Kida has documentation galore, but in the face of volumes of evidence, we continue to do more of the same. After blasting our anecdotal way of proving our theories, Kida uses his own anecdotes, saying "we evolved to love learning from stories." The difference is, the stories he tells survive sophisticated statistical analysis of the data.

There are fascinating stories on every page of this book, with conclusions that will bowl you over if you're not used to this kind of analysis - but it's so true to life. Every day, I hear people justifying their decisions on the basis of someone else's single experience, their own biased conclusion based on erroneous information, a TV show, a hot tip, or other bad data. Every day, I hear stories told that have been enhanced. Confrontations usually don't turn out quite as well as what is later reported to spellbound listeners.

I wish all high schools and colleges would offer a required course on critical thinking - for that group that really would like to take a more scientific approach, but didn't know it existed. Prepare to be blown away - this is a great book!
110 of 114 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9236a84c) out of 5 stars Should be required reading! 17 May 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How much better of a country we would have if everyone was required to read and digest this book before getting a high school diploma. We would at least have a population that understands what science, and the scientific method are. The author's explanation of science and pseudo-science, and how they differ, is excellent.

The author covers six common factors that cause us to be mis-guided by our thoughts. Honestly, when I read the list of 6 factors, I had a kind of ho-hum attitude. I didn't see how he could make explicating such obvious things (e.g., we don't always perceive reality accurately) interesting. But he surprised me! His book is very interesting, page after page. His anecdotes and explanations have a way of popping open one's brain cells, allowing one to reflect with much deeper insight on how various factors cause our thinking to send us into wasteful, and even destructive, dead-ends. I particularly enjoyed how well the author demonstrated that if there is no way to show that a hypothesis is false, there is nothing more we can do with it.

I really enjoyed this book. Since we are all dictated by our thoughts, I think that everyone would benefit from reading it!
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x923cbdb0) out of 5 stars Easy to read overview 9 Feb. 2008
By Robert Ashton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not completely sure what it is that I don't like about the style of writers for management. Maybe it's the insistence on the superficial, chatty, bouncy style of writing. Thomas Kida is a professor in the Isenberg School of Management and adopts this style, which somewhat undermines the very important points he makes. Yes, it's easy to read but I wouldn't mind a little more challenge in a book about the sometimes critical decision errors that we make due to our evolutionary past.

The book is subtitle "the 6 basic mistakes..." - "the six pack of problems" as he calls them, which he lists in sequence. However, the majority of the book is not structured to follow that sequence. It seems to be rather an afterthought (or a good publicity idea).

He readily admits that the book is built on the work of others and it really is. Much of the discussion on weird beliefs and pseudoscientific thinking is a rehash of Shermer and Sagan (and he credits them both). Having said that it does bring together a lot of different information and work by others and does explain how and why we all make these errors in reasoning. For a book on decision making, he goes too much into UFO's, false memories etc. His discussions on probability and why we misjudge is much more interesting and helpful.

Overall, as I've said, it's an easy read and does cover a lot of interesting ground. However, it really doesn't bring much new for anyone who has read generally about these sorts of issues. A pretty good introduction but I just wish writers like this would credit their readers with a little more intelligence and literacy.
59 of 68 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x922090a8) out of 5 stars A must-read for most of us 7 Feb. 2007
By Robert G. Muller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading a review of this book in e-Skeptic, I immediately ordered a copy. If there's one thing that could transform the world into a better place, it's the implementation of informed critical thinking in the general population. I have always been a proponent of Plutarch's belief that the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit, and am always in eager anticipation of books that may light those fires.

The title is a bit misleading, as it oversimplifies the author's scope. But the use of numbered lists in book and article titles (Ten Ways To Do This, Five Things You Can Do To Improve That, etc.) is a pretty standard marketing ploy to attract readers seeking simple answers.

If I had written of the review of the book after only 30-50 pages, I would not have given it a great review. It felt a bit choppy and lacking direction early on. The author seemed to worship statistics without the same level of skepticism applied to anecdotal evidence. All of this was fully rectified later in the book.

Kida's approach is not only theoretical. He uses real-life scenarios to show how decision-making based on poor information and/or improper processing of information affects our lives in negative ways.

There was one glaring omission: You can't talk about belief in the paranormal, superstition, and an aversion to fact-based and proven theory-based thinking without noting at some point that we live in a society where children are indoctrinated to believe in anti-science. Virgin births, the parting of seas at the will of a man, people walking on water, fat guys flying around the world with magic flying reindeer in a single night, rabbits delivering dyed chicken eggs, and so many more stories that are taught to children as fact brainwash them into believing in things that fly in the face of reason and fact. It shouldn't surprise us that these children grow up to accept bizarre claims, and make important decisions, without applying skepticism.

We're not much closer to an Age of Reason than we were during Thomas Paine's days, but at least there are books like this flying the flag and trying to warn us of the dangers of not using our "God-given" ability to think. As a whole, this is a book that can improve people's lives and, thereby, everything those lives touch.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92336df8) out of 5 stars Good presentation for popular audience! 13 Jan. 2007
By T.R. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a very readable and informative presentation of some well-known concepts from social psych. Scott Plous' book, "The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making" is more complete but less accessible to a purely lay audience and the material in this book is certainly nothing new, but it is nice to have a recently-published review of some research on cognitive illusions that was largely complete by the 90's. Good for adult learners interested in improving their critical thinking skills. Chapters are brief and examples are relevant and illuminating.
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