Book Review – The Intelligence Trap by David Robson
The Intelligence Trap – Why smart people make dumb mistakes.
The title itself is enough to pick up the book from a shelf. Once you open it, you cannot keep it down. David’s story telling style (the story on the very first page will get you) and the explanation of research to lay it down to a layman why smart people have such dichotomy of deeply held beliefs – from vaccination to climate to evolution and so on is remarkable.
The book not only explains some of the evolutionary reasons of why and how our biases lead us down these parting ways but also spends quite a few pages explaining how you can try not falling in these traps.
Here are some interesting ideas from the book to pique your interest….
1. Core thesis is when we talk of intelligent people – we reflect on “analytical” intelligence. But judgment requires two other kinds of abilities – “creative intelligence” – ability to invest, imagine and suppose and “practical intelligence” – ability to plan and execute an idea to overcome life’s messy, ill formed problems in a pragmatic way – which needs one to have metacognition (judging your own strength and weakness) and read motives of others (often referred to as social or emotional intelligence)
2. Intelligent and educated people are less likely to learn from their own mistakes, are less able to recognize the flaws in their own logic and when they do err, they build elaborate arguments to justify their reasoning.
3. A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices
4. Academic tests are timed, usually. We are taught that speed of reasoning is a quality of our minds. Hesitation and indecision is undesirable. Being “slow” is stupid. And yet, hesitation, indecision and being slow is exactly what is required to understand one’s own error in judgment.
5. People with high IQs have shown to be equally likely to be in financial distress (miss mortgage payment, bankruptcy, credit card debt) as lower IQ people!!
6. “Myside bias” (confirmation bias) is highest when it speaks to our sense of identity. This explains why we come to very quick decisions (System 1 – or Fast Thinking) when it comes to opinions on religion, politics, nationality or even sports teams! Smart people do not apply their superior intelligence for truth seeking so much as promoting their interests or opinions. Greater education and intelligence simply helps people to justify their beliefs that match their points of views. This explains anti-vaxxers, climate deniers and evolution deniers. They are as intelligent as the other side.
7. Our beliefs are first borne out of emotional needs. Intellect kicks in later to rationalize.
8. Human thought are less about truth seeking. It is about persuading others to our point of view and be skeptical of the other side (most likely from evolution). Thus biased reasoning is not a side effect of increased brainpower – it is the reason for it.
9. “Experts” come with two big challenges – their inability to see the other side (goes against their sense of identity – see above) and others tend to believe them even when what they are saying has nothing to do with with their area of expertise. “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt” – Bertrand Russell. Experts confuse their current level of understanding with their prior peak level of understanding. Therefore, they find it very difficult to to say “I do not know”.
10. Hearing the same opinion from different people has the same ability to convince you as hearing the same opinion from the same person repeatedly!!!