You Are Not So Smart (Pop-Rationality Book)

by betterthanwell2 min read1st Nov 20116 comments


Personal Blog

Journalist David McRaney has very recently published a popular book on human rationality. The book, You Are Not So Smart, is currently the 3rd best selling book in Nonfiction/Philosophy on after less than a week on the market. (Eighth best selling book in Nonfiction/Education)

The tag-line of the project is: "A celebration of self-delusion." As such the book seems less an attempt at giving advice on how to act and decide, than an attempt to reveal, chapter by chapter, the folly of common sense.

Topics include: Hindsight Bias, Confirmation bias, The Sunk Cost Fallacy, Anchoring Effect, The Illusion of Transparency, The Just World Fallacy, Representativeness Heuristic, The Perils of Introspection, The Dunning-Kruger Effect, The Monty Hall Problem, The Bystander Effect, Placebo Buttons, Groupthink, Conformity, Social Loafing, Helplessness, Cults, Change Blindness, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, Self Handicapping, Availability Heuristic, Self-Serving Bias, The Ultimatum Game, Inattentional Blindness.




These are topics we enjoy learning about, pride ourself in knowing a lot about, and, we profess, we would want more people to know about. A popular book on this subject is now out. This sounds like a good thing.

I will note that the blog features at least one direct quote from LessWrong.

We always know what we mean by our words, and so we expect others to know it too.  Reading our own writing, the intended interpretation falls easily into place, guided by our knowledge of what we really meant.  It’s hard to empathise with someone who must interpret blindly, guided only by the words.

- Eliezer Yudowsky from

One one hand, You Are Not So Smart could bee a boon to Eliezer's popular rationality book by priming the market. His writings on a given topic have rarely been described as redundant. On the other hand, it seems to me that this book closely covers a number of topics, seemingly in a similar style to the treatments that were published on this site and Overcoming Bias. Intended to be published in book form at a later date. I will try to refrain from speculation here.

Sample blook chapters from YouAreNotSoSmart:

For more material, here's a list of all posts at


I'll save the rest of my review until I have actually read the book.

In the meantime I would like to know your thoughts on this project.


6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:30 AM
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The viral promotional videos may be partly responsible. The other one is here.

One review says:

The book as a whole was like a manual of defining all the broken things, expounding on brokenness and moving on to another broken thing, all based on scientific research. No fixes. No suggestions.

I recall checking out the blog a while back, upon Lukeprog's recommendation via his blog, and leaving with a much lower opinion of the author after reading his post on the representativeness heuristic (causing me to classify him as pretty close to my model of Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini). If you check out the comment section, it looks like he thinks that your probability estimate in cases like the lawyer/engineer question should always track the frequency information you are given, because using your subjective stereotype information would be to "ignore statistics." Although I haven't bothered reading his stuff since, I expect that a careful look at his articles will reveal further such misunderstandings..

I'm unconvinced that the misattribution of arousal is not a feature.

Firstly, a woman that calmly stays on a scary bridge, may really be more worth having one-night-stand with, in evolutionary terms (taking care of children w/o the man, or at very least, combining your genes with dissimilar person). Secondarily when in danger it is a feature to take risks trying to reproduce. While it may well be that we do this by misattributing the arousal, which seems like an error, the end result may work, and evolution only cares about end result.

The arousal is here to modify your behaviour and it may be effective to modify behaviour in similar ways regardless of the source of the arousal.

Also, I'm unconvinced that in the experimental set up this even works by thinking - why were i so aroused - and then deciding, it must be woman, and calling her. Could be simply that in the aroused state (when the hormones are flowing through the blood) the sexual attraction is increased (the hormones latch onto receptor sites and increase the signal level for sexual attraction). That's clearly a simpler explanation. One should do this with rats and see. The rats probably do not think - "why the hell was i aroused, was it the female rat? she must be attractive, better give a call".

One one hand, You Are Not So Smart could bee a boon to Eliezer's popular rationality book by priming the market.

I'm actually a little worried that, with all the pop-sci rationality/cogbias books that have been coming out recently, the market might be getting bored of the topic.

Here is a list of recent pop-rationality books.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

For more, here's a list of all posts at

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