People are quick to make certain judgements. Our minds have evolved to excel at drawing conclusions from minimal data and thinking quickly using heuristics and mental models.

But some judgements are more reliable than others. When it comes to judging people, first impressions are quick, easy, and compelling — but are they accurate?

Alex Todorov found that we can form impressions of people in 1–10th of a second by relying on certain cues that aren’t always reflective of what we think they are. We stereotype people.

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. …

Illustration by author

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.

The Path of Serotonin

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 algorithmstechnology 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. …

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

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.

While this type of creative insight is easier to have, they are less predictable. …

Photo by Daniela Holzer on Unsplash

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. …

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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.

Where to Place the Blame

In 1958, Fritz Heider detailed

Humans 101

Our fast brains are gullible, and our slow brains can fix things up… when they get around to it

Blue reflection of person drinking from cup.
Photo: Johner Images/Getty Images

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…

Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

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. …

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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:

Sam Brinson

An emergent property of billions of chaotically firing neurons. Currently thinking about thinking.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store