The Art of Thinking Clearly (2013) by Rolf Dobelli, 2nd Book Review
I have read this book twice. First was 4 years ago in 2016 (to read my first review, CLICK HERE). I love this book so much for three main reasons: 1) It’s about thinking; 2) I’m very interested in social psychology and decision-making; and 3) Each chapter is short, concise and easy to read. It is about cognitive biases, namely, systematic errors in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make. The bad news is that all of us - even the most self-aware people - cannot avoid all of these biases. But the good news is that we can begin to understand why we do what we do and by deliberate practice - we can make better (not perfect) choices. Dobelli outlines 99 cognitive biases, let me share top 3 biases, in my opinion, that we always make in our day-to-day thinking:
#1 Confirmation Bias. It is the idea that people seek out information and data that confirms their pre-existing ideas. They tend to ignore contrary information. This can be a very dangerous cognitive bias in business and especially, religion. Let say you just started a business selling Faith Fleur hair serum because your friend says it’s an excellent and the best serum in Malaysia. You post some testimonial pictures on your social media and then few hours later, you observe (due to algorithm) that there are others in your circle of social media who also sell the product with very positive testimonies. You thought, “This product is really the best!” Is it really the best? No. There are other products in the market. Faith Fleur hair serum is popular, safe and good product but not the very best there is. Your friend says it’s the best, you believe her, and so you interpret everything based on that existing belief or conviction. As you can see, if you apply that bias in religion, it can be misleading, even dangerous. “The confirmation bias,” writes Dobelli, “is the mother of all misconceptions.”
#2 Groupthink. It is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Let me give an example in Christian setting: during a Bible Study on the Book of Romans, the leader expounds the Scripture and conclude that Calvinist doctrines of predestination and election are the most biblical and faithful to the Scripture. When you heard it, you’re skeptical and doubtful. You wanted to respond and ask questions but since almost everyone nodded in agreement, you become reserve. Not wanting you cause division, you suppressed your opinions, and say to yourself, “Oh well, since nobody disagree with him, maybe I’m wrong.” And you say “Amen” all the way. If you want to decide with your friends where to eat for supper (Malaysians culture ma), then subjecting yourself to groupthink is harmless. But when it involves ethics or morals (and eternal consequences), groupthink can be disastrous.
#3 Halo Effect. Simply put: it is when one trait of a person or thing is used to make an overall judgment of that person or thing. It is also known as the "physical attractiveness stereotype" or the "what is beautiful is 'good' principle." I love this example by Dobelli: “Dozens of studies have shown that we automatically regard good-looking people are more pleasant, honest and intelligent. Attractive people also have it easier in their professional lives - and that has nothing to do with the myth of women ‘sleeping their way to the top.’ The effect can even be detected in schools, where teachers unconsciously give good-looking students better grades.” Men, do you accept Facebook friend requests by a stunningly beautiful girl right away even though you never knew her before? Woman, do you think all the BTS members are angels from heaven? (Okay, maybe not all men or women like that). We love to think that we are fair and just, not stereotyping and anti-racism, very kind and ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but on a subconscious level, we do. We are irrational. Why anime-fans think that Son Goku is the good guy? Because when he died, he has a halo and angel’s wings. Oh, halo effect dies hard.
I recommend this book for beginners and for those who want to get the big picture of cognitive biases or fallacies. If you want to study deeper, I recommend reading books by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (haven’t finished it, so no book review yet), Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan (use it as reference), Robert Cialdini’s Influence (my review, CLICK HERE), Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational & The Upside of Irrationality (my review, CLICK HERE), and Steven D. Levitt’s Think Like a Freak (my review, CLICK HERE). But before I finished, I’m fully aware the controversy that Rolf Dobelli is accused of - or actually, shown that - plagiarizing other authors especially his once a good friend, Nassim Nicholas Taleb... I think it’s true.
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