Born in France in 1623, Blaise Pascal’s intellectual prowess was evident early. He was writing about projective geometry and laying the groundwork for probability theory in his teens, and by his early twenties had built a calculating machine (the Pascaline) to help his father do his taxes.
When he hit his thirties, he had a religious experience that turned his attention towards theology and philosophy. He began writing an examination and defence of the Christian faith. However, he had struggled with his health for many years and passed away at 39, before finishing this project. …
Deep inside the brain is a bundle of around 165,000 neurons, called the dorsal raphe nucleus. When prompted into action, the nucleus produces the neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as a messenger to other areas of the brain. Two areas often in communication with the dorsal raphe nucleus sit just behind your eyes — the medial prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex. Together, this communication channel appears responsible for the virtue of patience.
Past research has found a strong link between serotonin and waiting behaviour. When the dorsal raphe nucleus is stimulated, serotonin floods the system and patience is displayed. In…
Technology is all around us. It is at once so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible, and in other areas so remarkable as to grab the world’s attention.
From ceramic cups to nuclear weapons; from the springs in your mattress to immersive virtual worlds; from paper and pencils to intelligent algorithms—technology runs the gamut from background noise to something like magic.
But even the background technologies were once like magic. Cups and springs might not make for much conversation today, but life would be profoundly different were they were never invented. …
It’s always nice to have a good idea, but good ideas aren’t always easy to find. They’re often seen as something mystical, not reducible to a simple process but something that we wait and hope will burst up from the back of our mind.
This might be true to an extent. We certainly have insights when we least expect them, often when we’re engaged in another activity.
Thinking takes time and effort, meaning we can’t apply it to everything we do, otherwise it would take us too long to get anywhere.
For this reason we rely a great deal on intuition. It helps us navigate familiar roads, put our socks and shoes on, and get breakfast together. For the most part, it does its job and lets us be more selective in what we think about.
But intuition doesn’t always do a good job, and what we need in these cases is to inject some cognition. …
Teasing apart luck from skill in our decisions is difficult.
While most outcomes involve a combination of both, our improvement requires identifying what we should have done differently and what was out of our control.
Trouble is, when we try to identify what we did right or wrong, and what was good or bad luck, we tend to find ways of maintaining our positive self-image.
We want to look good in our own eyes and sometimes telling the truth would jeopardise that image. Unfortunately, that delusion can get in the way of becoming even better.
In 1958, Fritz Heider detailed…
When you encounter new information but have yet to form a belief about it, what’s your immediate response? Do you hold it up in your mental spotlight and subject it to a critical analysis? Do you suspend your belief until you’ve either confirmed or denied it?
We have limited time and mental resources to properly evaluate everything that impinges on our minds. We don’t stop to fact-check every headline that passes by on social media or every claim made by certain news outlets or each idea presented in a book.
What happens to things we encounter but don’t critically analyze…
“Uncertainty Is an Uncomfortable Position. But Certainty Is an Absurd One.” — Voltaire
Certainty is a funny thing.
You can ask someone whether anything in life can be known without any doubt — are we living in a simulation? Are other people conscious? Were all your memories just deleted and replaced with new ones? — and that person is likely to get all philosophical and say no, you can’t be sure of these things.
Yet that same person will then tell you that they have no doubt who will win the Superbowl. …
There are different definitions of smart and stupid. For some, stupidity is what you find watching videos of drunk people jump from the top of a flight of stairs, only to have the railing catch them between the legs.
For others, it’s people who score sufficiently low on an IQ test. Some people think stupidity applies to everyone they disagree with.
For the Italian economist Carlo Cipolla, stupid people are those that cause losses to other people and themselves, without anyone gaining from it:
“A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group…
“We are Homo sapiens. That’s the distinguishing characteristic about us, that sapiens part. We’re supposed to be smart.” — Carl Sagan
While we have an incredible capacity to apply logic and effort to our thought processes, there are many times we don’t, or think we do but do so in the wrong way. We’re rational up to the point that we’re not, and we’re not in surprisingly predictable ways.
Take a look at Wikipedia’s page on biases, and you’ll find almost 200 ways in which people make regular errors. …