6 Things I Learned from the Book "This Will Make You Smarter"

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I read the bookThis Will Make You Smarter.

It's an amazing compilation of short essays written by some of the world's most talented scientists, authors, and businessmen, written in a way anyone can understand.

The contributors were asked, "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"

Let me tell you, the book lives up to its title.

Here are six passages I found especially smart.

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1. Science is never certain:

There is a widely held notion that does plenty of damage: the notion of "scientifically proved." Nearly an oxymoron. The very foundation of science is to keep the door open to doubt. Precisely because we keep questioning everything, especially our own premises, we are always ready to improve our knowledge. Therefore a good scientist is never "certain." Lack of certainty is precisely what makes conclusions more reliable than the conclusions of those who are certain, because the good scientist will be ready to shift to a different point of view if better evidence or novel arguments emerge. Therefore certainty is not only something of no use but is also in fact damaging, if we value reliability.

2. Learn from as many disciplines as you can:

If I do my job right, my regular readers will never realize that I spend a fair amount of my leisure time reading Current Biology, The Journal of Neuroscience, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes . If that reading helps me find new ways to understand the financial world, as I suspect it does, my readers will indirectly be smarter for it. If not, the only harm done is my own spare time wasted. In my view, we should each invest a few hours a week in reading research that ostensibly has nothing to do with our day jobs, in a setting that has nothing in common with our regular workspaces. This kind of structured serendipity just might help us become more creative, and I doubt that it can hurt.

3. Happiness is complicated:

On average, individuals with high income are in a better mood than people with lower income, but the difference is about a third as large as most people expect. When you think of rich and poor people, your thoughts are inevitably focused on circumstances in which income is important. But happiness depends on other factors more than it depends on income. Paraplegics are often unhappy, but they are not unhappy all the time, because they spend most of the time experiencing and thinking about things other than their disability. When we think of what it is like to be a paraplegic, or blind, or a lottery winner, or a resident of California, we focus on the distinctive aspects of each of these conditions. The mismatch in the allocation of attention between thinking about a life condition and actually living it is the cause of the focusing illusion.

4. You're nothing special:

The mediocrity principle simply states that you aren't special. The universe does not revolve around you; this planet isn't privileged in any unique way; your country is not the perfect product of divine destiny; your existence isn't the product of directed, intentional fate; and that tuna sandwich you had for lunch was not plotting to give you indigestion. Most of what happens in the world is just a consequence of natural, universal laws laws that apply everywhere and to everything, with no special exemptions or amplifications for your benefit given variety by the input of chance . Everything that you as a human being consider cosmically important is an accident. The rules of inheritance and the nature of biology meant that when your parents had a baby, it was anatomically human and mostly fully functional physiologically, but the unique combination of traits that make you male or female, tall or short, brown-eyed or blue-eyed, were the result of a chance shuffle of genetic attributes during meiosis, a few random mutations, and the luck of the draw in the grand sperm race at fertilization.

5. But everyone thinks they are:

In one College Board survey of 829,000 high-school seniors, 0 percent rated themselves below average in "ability to get along with others," 60 percent rated themselves in the top 10 percent, and 25 percent rated themselves in the top 1 percent. Compared with our average peer, most of us fancy ourselves as more intelligent, better-looking, less prejudiced, more ethical, healthier, and likely to live longer a phenomenon recognized in Freud's joke about the man who told his wife, "If one of us should die, I shall move to Paris."

6. You can never be too open-minded:

The core of a scientific lifestyle is to change your mind when faced with information that disagrees with your views, avoiding intellectual inertia, yet many of us praise leaders who stubbornly stick to their views as "strong." The great physicist Richard Feynman hailed "distrust of experts" as a cornerstone of science, yet herd mentality and blind faith in authority figures is widespread. Logic forms the basis of scientific reasoning, yet wishful thinking, irrational fears, and other cognitive biases often dominate decisions.

Go buy the book here. It's wonderful.

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The article 6 Things I Learned from the Book "This Will Make You Smarter" originally appeared on Fool.com.

Contact Morgan Housel at mhousel@fool.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.