A compilation of scientists, investors, psychologists, writers, and other geniuses were asked: “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Their answers blew my mind. Thirty-eight concepts are listed in these notes, but there are close to 200 in the entire compilation. The book lives up to its title – by reading it, you actually will be smarter.
1. Science’s Marketing Problem: Science has succeeded in research. But they have failed when it comes to educating the public. In the United States, 40 percent believe our human species is less than 10,000 years old.
2. Uniquely Similar: If you’re reading this, you’re a human being. That makes you the same as every person who reads this. Yet, simultaneously, you have differences with the next person who reads this.
3. Multiple Causality: Our human brain works in a way we see one cause for an action. The ball hits the racket. But there are often multiple causes for a single action. When an apple falls, is it because its stem withers, it dries up, grows heavier, or because the wind shakes it?
4. Control Your Spotlight: There is more information than ever before. When information is abundant, the ability to focus on the important stuff is difficult. Can you effectively put your spotlight (or focus) on the important information? You’ll be far ahead of most.
5. The Focusing Illusion: We are awful at imagining future scenarios. We focus on the distinctive aspect. Example: we believe if we won the lottery we’d be happy. We would be, for a short time. But this extreme joy would likely subside.
6. Uncertainty of Science: “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.” “Scientifically proved” is an oxymoron. Science builds on previous knowledge. Newton improved Kepler, Einstein improved Newton.
7. The Nominal Fallacy: Just because something has a name, doesn’t mean we actually understand it. That word can then take on a life of its own. For example: a scientific “law” and “theory” do not mean what “laws” and “theories” typically mean.
8. Black Swans: People are bad at assessing probability. We overestimate rare but shocking events (terrorist attacks) but underestimate the quiet and insidious ones (eating a donut).
9. Distributed Systems: We often think of ourselves as one. We have one mind and one body. But we fail to think of the system we are a part of. Just like an ant contributes to the ant colony, what role do each of us play in a larger network (Internet, our corporation, society)?
10. Failure Creates Success: We can learn just as much from experiments that don’t work than ones that do. Embracing negative results leads to success.
11. Holism: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
12. Shifting Baseline Syndrome: We must make sure we’re taking inventory of when we begin measuring the data.
13. PERMA: Measure your life based on five qualities:
(1) Positive Emotion
(3) Positive Relationships
(4) Meaning and Purpose
14. Structured Serendipity: To cultivate curiosity, vary what you learn and vary where you learn it. New associations will leap out to you.
15. The Kaleidoscopic Discovery Engine: Many incredible inventions were invented simultaneously and independently. Newton and Leibniz invented calculus at the same time. Darwin and Wallace for evolution. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray for the telephone.
16. Cognitive Load: The modern world feeds us more information than ever. However, brain researchers believe our working memory has a maximum capacity of just three or four bits of information at a time.
17. Externalities: When you just go about your business, it may have unintended side effects. For example, due to busy roads during rush hour, London and Singapore implemented congestion charges.
18. Duality of Humans: We are both brilliant and stupid at the same time, capable of inventing wonders and still capable of forgetting what we’ve done.
19. The Only Constant Is Change: Change is the law. Stability and consistency are illusions, temporary in nature. When we want things to stay the same, we’ll always end up playing catch up. Go with the flow.
20. Different Lenses: We assume the way we see the world is the way everyone else does (or should). But everyone is looking at the same facts with a slightly different picture.
21. The Umwelt: Different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. The bloodhound has 200 million scent receptors in his nose. If the human swapped places with the bloodhound, we would be shocked at how rich the smells of the world actually are.
22. Bottom Up: Nobody created these with any idea of what they would eventually become. Examples: language and the Internet.
23. Constraint Satisfaction: To be more creative, limit constraints. This is how detectives crack their cases (by treating each clue as a constraint). This is how you choose what to wear in the morning (using each piece of clothing as a constraint). A key to problem-solving.
24. The Flynn Effect: The world has gotten objectively smarter by as much as three IQ points per decade over successive decades since the early twentieth century.
25. The Pareto Principle: 20% of the actions are responsible for 80% of results. The richest or busiest or most connected participants in a system will account for much, much more wealth or activity or connectedness than average.
26. The Personality/Insanity Continuum: We are all very far from optimal mental health and we are all more or less crazy in many ways.
27. Brain Fitness: We must workout to remain physically fit but how can we keep our brain fit? Extensive research shows that people can improve cognitive function and brain efficiency through simple lifestyle changes, like incorporating memory exercises.
28. Collective Intelligence: Human achievement is entirely a networking phenomenon. By each doing one thing and getting good at it, then sharing and combining the results through exchange, people become capable of doing things they do not even understand (like creating a pencil).
29. Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence of Absence: You cannot prove a new technology does no harm because if you fail to find the harm, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
30. Path Dependence: Something that seems normal today is often only a result of something that made sense at the time it was created. For example, the QWERTY keyboard was created in the 1890s to slow down the typists so the typewriter wouldn’t get stuck.
31. Duality (Physics): Two radically different theories may both be correct. Typically, we think: perhaps my argument is right and yours is wrong or vice-versa. However there’s also a third option: maybe our opposing arguments are true (dual) depending on our perspective.
32. Entanglement: In quantum physics, two particles are entangled when a change in one particle immediately reflects a change in the other – even though they are physically far apart.
33. Time Horizons: He who thinks the longest wins. Line workers focus on tasks that can be completed in a single shift, managers devote their energy to thinking in six month frames, CEOs think about goals on a yearly basis.
34. The Einstellung Effect: We attempt to solve problems based on pursuing solutions that have worked for us in the past instead of evaluating and addressing the new problem in its own terms.
35. Homo Sensus Sapiens: Human beings are animals that both feel and reason. We tend to be overconfident in our rational abilities and tend to underrate our instincts. But we have the capacity for both – natural responses as well as sophisticated planning.
36. Confabulation: When we use stories to explain why we take actions we do not understand. People named Dennis or Denise are more likely to be dentists. When asked why they became a dentist, it is unlikely they will say because it sounds like my name, but that might be the reason.
37. Life As A Side Effect: Birds do not have wings so they can fly. We do not have eyes so we can read. Instead, eyes and wings and the rest of life’s wonders come about as a side effect of life itself.
38. The Veeck Effect: Whenever someone adjusts the standards of evidence in order to favor a preferred outcome. Named after Bill Veeck, a baseball owner who would adjust the fences in the ballpark to favor his own team.