You Are Not So Smart (2011) explores the many different ways we have of deluding ourselves. By delving into a wide range of psychological research, the author challenges the notion that we are logical, rational beings who see the world as it really is and makes a case that we mislead ourselves every single day, for better and for worse.
It would be nice to believe that we humans are rational beings who see the world as it really is. But, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Rather than being mere objective observers of the world around us, we constantly delude ourselves in order to make sense of coincidences and other random happenings.
We do this by applying order to the random events and chaotic coincidences that occur around us.
For ancient man, the ability to recognize patterns was essential to his survival: it enabled him to find food, and to distinguish friends from enemies and predators from potential prey.
As a result, we’ve evolved into beings always on the lookout for patterns in the “noise” around us. We simply aren’t capable of switching off our pattern-recognition ability – which explains why we often see patterns where none exist.
Have you ever, say, marveled at how a particular number – for example, seven – keeps popping up during your day? Or what if you find out that your blind date’s mother shares a name with your mother – does this make you think, even briefly, that you’re meant for each other?
The fact is, the number seven is as common as all other numbers and countless other mothers share your mother’s name. They’re merely coincidences, but we see what we want to see, and we want to see meaning.
What’s more, we not only find meaning in random situations, but we also trick ourselves into believing we can control them.
For example, although the numbers that come up when a die is rolled are completely random, studies have shown that the more powerful a person feels, the more they believe they can predict the next roll of the die.
Also, research indicates that most people engage in at least some “magical thinking,” like crossing our fingers when we wish for something particular to happen. Here, too, we believe we can control the uncontrollable.