Problem Solving

Shortcuts (Repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on

We humans laud our superiority over the rest of the world. We even claim to be better than other humans. The chief attribute we compare is intelligence.

An interest of mine regarding Psychology in college was failures of the mind. Phineas Gage suffered a brain injury that drastically changed his behavior. That was really cool! Yet, that and other cases are relatively rare. More universally, the brain works much more nuanced than most people give credit. I think much of the problems of society tie back to how the brain works and maybe even societal attempts at glossing over the limitations.

Rather than one really long post, I am going to break these up into several. And much of this has been bumping around in my head for months, but I took a few hours to lay it all down.

  1. Illusions
  2. Labeling
  3. Math
  4. Multitasking
  5. Rules

For going on a decade, I have called these Cheating. Rather than taking in all the information, completely processing it, and strategically acting upon it, our brains selectively attend to a small portion, throws out even more, and acts upon incomplete information. Most of the time it works. Much of the time it doesn’t and we have no idea so we just think it works. Every once in a while we get burned by our brains not following the rules we expect them to follow. So to make this more palatable, I am going to try calling these Shortcuts.

Education Parenting

Savage little students

“Starting With Women Animation / Explainer / Promo” by Dirk Jan Haarsma, 15d Animation Studio is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

People have told me they love the idea of my being a teacher or parent. This is in part due to how I confidently proclaim facts. I wonder if it is because they actually want to see me taken down:

If you confidently tell a young child a fact, they’re likely to believe you. But you’d better be right — because if they find out that you were wrong, and should have known better, they’ll doubt not only your credibility but your intelligence too.

I am very introspective about my own accuracy and should I have a doubt after the fact, I will check and verify. Should I be worried about my daughter taking me down?