Is mankind, as Shakespeare’s famous saying goes, the spirit of all things, endowed with ” noble reason” and ” infinite ability”? Has mankind evolved to this day and is it the perfect work of God?
The truth is not. Although it is regarded as ” up to standard”, there are still many defects in human body and brain. For example, our eyes actually have blind spots. The whole weight of our body is only borne by one spine. Our brains often forget what just happened and persist in making wrong decisions.
In the face of imperfect evolution, is mankind helpless? Gary Markus, an expert in psychology and brain research at the University of new york, gave his answer.
According to the latest knowledge of psychology and brain science, Gary Markus provides a unique perspective of cognitive psychology from the perspective of human brain evolution, clearly explaining ” evolutionary inertia”, indicating that the evolution of the brain is inherently imperfect. Facing imperfect evolution, human beings as thinkers are not helpless, but can distinguish which defects can be ignored and which can be improved.
To this end, he summed up 13 scientific suggestions to help us improve the cognitive deficits of the brain and overcome the habits of anxiety, confusion and procrastination. In his view, there are flaws is not terrible. When we can honestly look at ourselves in the mirror and clearly realize the coexistence of advantages and disadvantages, we will have the opportunity to make the best use of the human brain given by evolution, thus better adapting to life.
First, as far as possible to consider whether there are other feasible options
As we have seen, human beings have not formed the habit of considering evidence in a calm and objective way. One of the simplest methods we can use to improve our thinking and reasoning ability is to train ourselves to consider whether there are other feasible options. Even if it is so simple as to force ourselves to list feasible options, it can improve the reliability of our reasoning.
A series of studies have shown the significance of the simple maxim ” think the opposite”; Other studies have shown the importance of ” counterfactual thinking” – we need to carefully consider what else may happen or could have been, instead of just caring about the current situation.
The more we pay attention to other ideas and possibilities besides the things we are most concerned about, the better. As Robert Rubin said, ” I have met some people at different stages of my career who seem to have more confidence in everything in the world than in anything I am doing.” Before making the right choice, we often need to consider both the path we will not take and the path we will eventually choose.
Second, redefine the problem
Is that soap 99.4% pure or 0.6% toxic? Politicians, advertisers and even our local supermarket employees are used to fabricating all the information we hear, see and read. Show everything as positive and positive as possible. Our job – as consumers, voters and citizens – is to always look at everything around us with a skeptical eye and form the habit of thinking over and over again about anything asked. ( Should I understand the ” euthanasia” legislation as a way to prevent people from dying at the hands of murderers or as a way to help people die with dignity? If I reduce my part-time job, will I reduce my income or will I have more time to spend with my children? If you can think of the problem in another way, you might as well give it a try. Background – related memory means that we always have to think in reverse: how we think about a problem affects our memory content, which in turn affects the answers we can get. Therefore, asking each question in a different way as far as possible is very useful in avoiding this kind of deviation.
Three, always keep in mind: correlation is not equal to causality
Believe it or not, looking at the population of the United States, you will find that the size of their shoes is highly related to their common sense level: people with large shoe sizes usually know more about history and geography than people with small shoe sizes. But this does not mean that you can become smarter by buying a bigger pair of shoes, or that having big feet means you have a high level of intelligence. This correlation, like many others, seems to be more important than its essence, because we are born to confuse correlation with causality. The correlation I have described is real, but the natural inference from it – one of which inevitably leads to the other – does not exist. In this example, the reason why the correlation exists is that the person with the smallest foot ( and hence the smallest shoe ) is the visitor who has just arrived on our planet, that is, those infants and toddlers, who are all very young human beings and have not yet taken the first lesson in life. We learn while growing up, but this does not mean that growth ( itself ) can make us learn.
Four, never forget to control the size of the sample
From medical research to baseball performance statistics, people often ignore the scale of data they use to draw conclusions. Any single event may be random, but the recurrence of the same pattern is unlikely to be an accidental event. Mathematically, the larger the number of samples, the more accurate the statistical results. This is why, on average, the results of a survey of 2,000 people are more reliable than the results of a survey of only 200 people. Seeing someone hit 0.400 in 10 baseball games ( that is, 40% hit rate ) does not mean he can hit 0.400 in the whole season including 162 games.
Although this fact is so striking, it is still easy for people to forget to pay attention to the sample size. Those who first expressed this law as the ” law of large numbers” believe that this law is so simple and clear that ” even the stupidest people can understand it by some instinct given by nature”, but in fact, people often ignore its existence. We have to find some explanation for the data model. Faced with some small samples ( for example, the results of several baseball games or the stock market fluctuations on a certain day ), such samples only reflect the influence of random factors. The guy who scored 0.400 in the last 10 baseball games is because ” his sense of ball is really great”, and ( from a statistical point of view ) it is not because a batter with a normal score of only 0.300 may happen to have scored 0.400 in a few days. However, stock market analysts are doing such things. They are trying to link daily stock market fluctuations with some specific news facts. ” The stock market rose today because the fourth quarter results released by Acme Federal Company were higher than expected.” Think back, when was the last time you heard an analyst say ” in fact, today’s market rally is probably just a random fluctuation in the stock market”?
Excitingly, psychologist Richard Nisbett has proved that ordinary people can be made more sensitive to the law of large numbers within half an hour.
Five, predict their own impulses and constraints in advance
Odysseus tied himself to the mast of the sailboat to resist the temptations of the siren Sai Ren. On this point, we all have to learn from him well. For example, we can compare the groceries that we plan to buy next week after we are full of wine and food with the junk food that we buy in the store when we are hungry. If we make up our mind in advance to buy only the planned food, then we will bring home a basket of healthier food. The people mentioned earlier set up the ” Christmas shopping savings” in order to be able to shop at will and dare not use the money on the book for a whole year. In an era of ” liquidity is king”, this kind of behavior is regarded by economists as completely irrational behavior. However, once the limitations of human evolution are taken into account, the appearance of such behavior becomes completely reasonable. Temptation is the most difficult to resist when we can see and feel it. Therefore, if we plan for the future, we will have a better life than always acting on impulse. Therefore, smart people like to work step by step.
Six, don’t just set goals, to formulate contingency plans
In many cases, it is almost impossible for people to accomplish a vague goal, such as ” I want to lose weight” or ” I plan to finish this article before the deadline”. Moreover, just expressing the target in more detail [ ” I want to lose 6 pounds ( about 2.7 kilograms )” ] cannot achieve sufficient effect. However, the research by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer shows that if a detailed contingency plan is formulated for the desired goal, in the form of ” If X, Y” ( ” If I see French fries, I will walk away” ), the probability of success can be greatly increased.
Admitting that we are born with the phenomenon of ” Crewe machine” is helpful to understand the fact that the deliberative system that we evolved at a later stage is grafted onto the ancestral system with reflective characteristics, thus limiting our ability to control the brain. However, almost everything we do must go through the older ancestral reflex system. Thus, detailed contingency plans provide a way to help us bypass the cognitive limitations of the brain by transforming abstract targets into forms that our ancestral systems can understand ( if … is … the basis for all reflex systems to function ). In this way, because we have mastered the language used by the ancient brain system, our probability of achieving our work goals is greatly increased.
Seven, at any time, if you are tired or still thinking about other things, try not to make important decisions.
Thinking when you are exhausted ( or distracted ) is not much different from driving after getting drunk. Because after exhaustion, we rely more on our reflex system than on our thinking system. The same is true when we are distracted. For example, a study has found that if a health-conscious consumer is asked to try to remember 7 digits while choosing between fruit salad and chocolate cake, he will probably choose chocolate cake. If we only want to judge by emotion, we can do it. But if we want to act rationally, it is very important to create ” some preconditions for victory” – which means that we need to ensure adequate rest and concentration when making important decisions.
Eight, at any time in the trade-off between benefits and costs
It sounds like even a child understands this truth, but in fact it is not an idea naturally generated by the brain. People often find themselves either in a ” prevention” mentality, that is, emphasizing the cost of their actions ( if I don’t go to the concert, I will waste the money to buy tickets ), or in a ” promotion” mentality, that is, emphasizing the benefits of their actions ( it is so interesting to listen to the concert! Who would have noticed that I went to work a little late in the morning? The premise of making reasonable judgment is obviously to weigh the pros and cons. However, unless we are more vigilant, our character and emotion will often become a stumbling block to rational judgment.
By the way, we have to pay special attention to what economists call ” opportunity costs”. Whenever we invest in economy or other fields, we should carefully consider what other things the money can be used for. Once the money is used to invest in this matter, it cannot be used to do another thing. As the saying goes, ” You cannot have both fish and bear’s paw”. However, such a simple truth is often forgotten by us. For example, people are considering whether it is wise to set aside 100 million US dollars from public funds to build a new baseball stadium. Of course, this $ 100 million investment is likely to bring profits, but few people consider that the money can actually be invested in other projects ( such as paying off debts, reducing future interest payments, or building three new primary schools, etc. ), and what other opportunities to make money will be sacrificed for the construction of such a baseball stadium. Because these costs are not clearly marked, they are often ignored by us. On a personal level, considering opportunity cost means that no matter what we decide to do, such as watching TV, we are actually taking up time that could otherwise be used to do other things, such as making a good meal or going out on a bike with our children.
Nine, imagine your decision may be spot checks by others
Research shows that if people want to give reasons to their answers, they will be more impartial and objective than those who do not make preparations in this regard. When we have to take responsibility for our own decisions, we often devote more cognitive energy, study all kinds of information in more detail and circumspectly, and make more complicated decisions and arrangements accordingly.
For this reason ( note, I’m not making it out of thin air ), if a poster with a pair of eyes instead of some flowers is placed on the public coffee machine, then office workers may be more willing to take the initiative to pay for coffee, because to some extent, the eyes on the poster make them feel responsible for their actions.
Ten, keep a distance with yourself
Buddhists tell us: the present is the most important. In most cases, they are absolutely right to say so. If an out-of-control car is rushing towards you, you will throw away whatever you have in your hand and concentrate on your current goal, that is, to escape from the direction of the car immediately. But if I want to finish the meal with a chocolate cake, then I have to ask myself: do I take the current goal ( satisfying my sweet tooth hobby ) too seriously compared to my long-term goal ( keeping healthy )? Sending an e-mail denunciation of your boss will allow you to vent your current emotions and feel good about yourself, but you will probably regret it next week.
Our brain’s mechanism for considering distance is almost established in completely different ways: ( for the brain ) proximity is a clear and specific concept; However, far away is an abstract concept. It is not always better to consider problems with abstract concepts. Do you still remember what you promised to do six months later ( for example, attending charity activities or volunteering at the school where your child attends )? At that time, you probably didn’t see any harm to you from your promise, but as the fulfillment date approaches, you will feel that it is like a heavy burden imposed on yourself. Therefore, at any time, we should ask ourselves, how will I feel about this decision in the future? It is good for us to realize that our handling methods will be different at this moment and in the future, and try to balance and make good use of the two thinking modes of immediate and long term. In this way, we won’t suffer because we base our choices entirely on what we think immediately. ( In this regard, a good conclusion is: wait a moment. If you still want this thing tomorrow, then it may be really important. If your desire for it has disappeared, it means that it is not an urgent need. ) Empirical research shows that irrational behavior usually fades away with the passage of time. To make complex decisions, we need to allow enough time for careful consideration so as to achieve the best results.
11. Be careful of vividness, individuation and anecdotes
This is another inevitable conclusion derived from the principle of ” keeping a distance from yourself”, but it is easier said than done. In the previous chapter, there was an example of comparing the temptation to see cookies with the temptation to know cookies orally. However, a more convincing example in this respect is Timothy Wilson’s research on college students and condom brands, which draws a classic conclusion: ” do as I say, not as I do.” In the experiment, the subjects got two sources: one was the conclusion from the Consumer Report that the data was sufficient, and it recommended condom A; The other came from an anecdote ( said to have been written by another student ), which recommended condom B on the grounds that someone who used condom A accidentally ruptured during ” sex”, thus causing the parties concerned to be extremely anxious and worried that they might become pregnant. Almost all college students believe in principle that the conclusions in the Consumer Report are more reliable and hope that their friends will not be influenced by that anecdote when choosing condoms. However, when asked about their own choices, almost 1 / 3 ( 31% ) of the college students still believed the vivid anecdote and chose condom B. Our quadruped ancestors may have to pay attention to those colorful or abnormal things, but now we are lucky enough to have enough time to think about them slowly, and we should also take advantage of this advantage to overcome our vulnerability to vividness by paying special attention to objective and scientific things.
XII. Selection of Key Points
The decisions we make will cost us a lot of psychological and even physical costs, and we can’t wait until we have all the information and enough time to carefully consider each unexpected situation and its countermeasures. Therefore, in this list listed in this chapter, all the strategies I recommend are simple, effective and easy to use, but please never forget the story of ” Buridan’s Ass”: the donkey faced with two piles of hay of the same distance and attraction, but finally starved to death. In a word, please leave the most careful decision you have considered to the most important thing.
13. Try to be rational
This last piece of advice sounds so trivial and unbelievable that it can be compared with the world’s most worthless stock market motto ( ” Buy low and sell high” – it is absolutely correct in theory and useless in practice ). However, reminding yourself to be rational is not as useless as it sounds.
Think back to a phenomenon called ” mortality” mentioned in the previous chapter on faith: those who are guided to think about their own mortality tend to become more severe towards people from other ethnic groups. However, we can reduce the impact by telling them to think twice before answering, and to ” try to be rational and analyze first” ( instead of answering only by ” internal reaction” ). A similar conclusion was reached in another study.
One of the important reasons for telling yourself to be rational is that when you do this, you can automatically inspire yourself to use the techniques I have introduced before in your life practice ( such as considering alternatives, or making us responsible for our own actions, etc. ). It may not be enough to just tell yourself to be rational, but when you do this, you can see the effect by using other skills.
Each of the above suggestions is based on empirical research on the limitations of the human brain. Each suggestion is aimed at a specific defect in the brain and helps us eliminate some defects in the process of evolution in a unique way.