21 February 2021

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!!!

21 February 2021

Sometimes it is funny because it is too close to the truth…

… like most Dilbert cartoons!!

Anyways, last night I was talking to a senior of mine from school who I have respected all my life not only for his superior level of intelligence but also his thoughtfulness and rational thinking and the ability to argue both sides of a debate..

(while discussing the opinion of the masses….)

“So, how do you explain the recent disbelief in science?”, I asked.
“That is not new. It has always been there.”
“Really?”
“Yes”
“Why do you say that?”
“If you can believe in God, you can believe in any conspiracy theory. And we have been believing in God for a very long time.”

I burst out laughing. And kept smiling the rest of the evening – not just because how he put it – but I realized that there was an element of truth to it!!

9 February 2021

Love of writing meets love of geography!

Just this morning I was talking to my Geography teacher from my middle school days – Mrs. Jayanti Bhowmic. And this blog reminds me I need to call up my English teacher from those times – Mrs. Devyani Biswas. The love of geography and the love of writing that they had instilled in me came together on Nov 2, 2014 when I had decided to track my blog readers by country. The blog itself was over nine years old by then. So, all the tracking has been in the last six years or so.

Reached 149 countries this morning with that one reader from Tajikistan logging in. I am sure he/she was completely lost in the internet-dom and landed on my page. But I am tantalizingly close to reaching the landmark of 150 countries.

Some interesting facts:

Most commonly hit page is : About Me

Second highest hit page (I have no idea why) is a translation of a Bengali poem that accompanied a photo I had taken with my DSLR.

Most hits from China? The puzzles posts !!

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7 February 2021

Football or not

Penning a two page letter to a dear friend explaining how I went from being a lover of American football to virtually completely avoiding it. How the statistics on violent injuries and how it has affected players’ lives after they are done playing is too mind numbing for me. This is while Super Bowl is going on right now…

Used a new pen that I got a couple of months back from China.

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29 January 2021

Like the good old times…

Sat down to write a letter to an old teacher of mine who helped me with Bengali in 1984 (I was not good at it). Made a valiant attempt to write the whole letter in Bengali. Landed up using a couple of English words…But writing with a fountain pen to a Bengali teacher in Bengali – that is as 1984 as it gets for me!!

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26 January 2021

Of Montaigne and Somshekhar Baksi

This guy – Somshekhar Baksi – is what you might call a Renaissance Man. My meeting a few years back is something I savor every moment reminiscing about it. Once a year, I get to talk to him on his birthday. (Which, regrettably ends when he realizes I have taken too much of his time). Today was no exception.

Our big topic today was Montaigne. If you are not much into philosophy, this is your cue to exit. Baksi – as we used to call him in our MBA school days – led me to yet another book – not Montaigne’s “Essays” per se… but the biography written by Sarah Bakewell.

This is what I came up on Page 1… Nothing has described why I blog about mundane details about my life better than this… Or why I will never write a book…

“shared self-revelation is the best way to develop trust and cooperation around the planet, replacing national stereotypes with real people.”

For, in describing what makes me different from anyone else, I simply reveal what I share with everyone else: the experience of being human. This idea—writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity— while not unique, is often overlooked.

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