How Psychological Blind Spots and Illusions Shape Our Reality

The Reality Bubble Book CoverIf the history of science over the last 450 years has taught us anything, it is that there is a major mismatch between perception and reality. The invisible forces so important to our understanding of the world—from heliocentrism and gravity to evolution and microorganisms—were discovered only by scientists bold and radical enough to see what everyone else was blind to. It is only through the extension of our senses and the transcendence of our cognitive limitations that we have made any progress in our knowledge of the world at all.

That human sensation and perception is limited is a major understatement: humans can see less than 1 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum (visible light), making us literally blind to 99 percent of it. Other animals can not only see better and farther than us, many have greater sensitivity to a wider range of colors while others can see ultraviolet and infrared light and even magnetic fields. We are deaf to most frequencies and incapable of experiencing many smells, tastes, and sensations. We are blind to the smallest scales (and to the trillions of bacterial cells that inhabit our bodies) and to the farthest reaches of the known universe (46 billion light-years across).

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Francis Bacon’s Idols of the Mind and How to Overcome Them

Francis Bacon Major WorksFrancis Bacon, often referred to as the father of empiricism, was an English philosopher, scientist, and early proponent of the scientific method, arguing for the advancement of scientific knowledge based on inductive reasoning and careful observation.

In the preface to his 1620 masterwork, the Novum Organon, Bacon wrote:

“Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men’s efforts than good by their own.”

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How to Be a Skeptic: 5 Tools for Better Critical Thinking

The Skeptics Guide to the UniverseThe Skeptics Guide to the Universe by Steven Novella is one of the best books on critical thinking and skepticism since Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. Although you would hope, in the 21st century, that it shouldn’t have to be explained why treating eczema with turmeric infusions is a bad idea, gullibility for pseudoscience is a recurring feature of human psychology and in need of constant debunking.

The running theme throughout the book is the concept of fallibilism, and how we are all wired to engage in biased and logical fallacious thinking (even self-proclaimed skeptics or critical thinkers). As the authors constantly remind us, this is a tendency we all have to perpetually work to overcome, and that no one is immune to bias simply because they identify as a skeptic.

With that in mind, here are five concepts/tools to become a better critical thinker.

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