THUNK – 132. On Understanding Others

“I will *never* understand why people X.” Oh really? Let’s turn that dial up to 11 and see what happens.

-Links for the Curious-

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t include a reference to the Netflix show “Mindhunter” (a fictional drama based on the origins of FBI profiling & forensic psychology of serial killers), there’s a growing body of criticism regarding the methods & rigor of those techniques, & I didn’t want to get bogged down hashing out details. Pretty much all of the criminal psychology used in law enforcement today assumes the central premise of this video (that even horrifyingly divergent minds can be simulated & understood to some degree), but it’s possible that the FBI’s whole classification system is pseudoscience –

Psychopathology of terrorists (Piccinni et al, 2017) –

Patterns of Thinking in Militant Extremism (Saucier et al, 2009) –

Inside the Terrorist Mind (Schaefer, 2007) –

Psychology of Terrorism (Borum, 2004) –

Psychological Vulnerabilities and Propensities for Involvement in Violent Extremism (Borum, 2014) –

Genesis of Suicide Terrorism (Atran, 2003) –


THUNK – 131. Puzzles of Epistemology

Gettier problems, extreme skepticism, the closure principle – “knowledge” is one hell of a rabbit hole. Thus: epistemology!

-Links for the Curious-

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s (SEP) fantastic article on epistemology –

The SEP on epistemic closure (& academic skepticism) –

Philosophytube’s “Knowledge Explained” –

Crash Course’s “The Meaning of Knowledge” –

“On Certainty” (Wittgenstein, 1969) –

“Debating Scientific Epistemology” (Dougherty, 2016) –

The Epistemology of Democracy (Anderson, 2006) –


THUNK – 129. Immortality

Coping with the knowledge of our own mortality is often tricky – what if we just tried a different angle? #YOLO

If you’re struggling with suicidal ideation or depression call the national suicide prevention hotline right now: 1-800-273-8255
Also see:

-Links for the Curious-

Terror Management Theory Overview (Wikipedia) –

Is Death Always a Misfortune? (SEP, 2014) –

Descartes projected that his newfound rationalist version of medicine would result in people living a thousand years. Let’s just say he was optimistic. (Shapin, 2000) –

Scientists up stakes in bet on whether humans will live to 150 (Fleming, 2016) –

Some history of hype regarding the human genome project and genomics (Eisen, 2014) –

Evidence for a limit to human lifespan (Dong et al, 2016) –

Human age limit claim sparks debate (Geddes, 2016) –

Many possible maximum lifespan trajectories (Hughes & Hekimi, 2017) –

Evolution of the human lifespan and diseases of aging: Roles of infection, inflammation, and nutrition (Finch, 2009) –

Lust for life: breaking the 120-year barrier in human ageing (Roy, 2013) –

THUNK – 128. Boredom


Boredom isn’t just murderously frustrating, it’s a psychological trait with surprisingly far-reaching effects.

-Links for the Curious-

Boredom Proneness Test, by Science of Us –

Boredom Proneness – The Development & Correlates of a New Scale (Farmer & Sundburg, 1986) –

Why boredom is anything but boring (Koerth-Baker, 2016) –

The History of Boredom (McRobbie, 2012) –

Relations between brain chemistry and problem-solving among rats raised in enriched and impoverished environments (Rosenzweig & Bennett, 1962) –

Relationships between boredom proneness, mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and substance use (LePera, 2011) –

The Relationships Between Need for Cognition, Boredom Proneness, Task Engagement, and Test Performance (Diehl & Wyrick, 2015) –

Cognitive Correlates of Boredom Proneness: The Role of Private Self-Consciousness and Absorption (Seib & Vodanovich, 2010) –

The Bright Side of Boredom (Elpidorou, 2014) –

THUNK – 127. Overfitting & Reference Class Forecasting

Predicting the future is hard. Weirdly enough, you can sometimes do better with *less* information!

-Links for the Curious-

Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) –

“Curbing Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation in Planning: Reference Class Forecasting in Practice” (Flyvbjerg, 2008) –

“The accuracy of hybrid estimating approaches? Case study of an Australian state road & traffic authority” (Liu, Wehbe, & Sisovic, 2010) –

THUNK – 126. Debiasing: How to Change Your Mind

Critical thinking is well and good, but it only really helps if you’re willing & able to change your mind!

-Links for the Curious-

Giving Debiasing Away: Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare? (Lilienfeld et al, 2009) –

Debiasing (Larrick, 2004) –

A User’s Guide to Debiasing (Soll et al, 2013) –

The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks (Braman et al, 2012) –

Considering the opposite: a corrective strategy for social judgment (Lord et al, 1984) –

Overcoming Intuition: Metacognitive Difficulty Activates Analytic Reasoning (Alter et al, 2007) –

The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases (Keysar et al, 2012) –

Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence (Kaplan et al, 2016) –

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the PreMortem Technique on Plan Confidence (Veinott et al, 2010) –

A Scientist-Practitioner Model of Psychological Assessment: Implications for Training, Practice and Research (Spengler et al, 1995) –

The effects of perspective-taking on prejudice: the moderating role of self-evaluation (Galinsky & Ku, 2004) –

Debiasing Decisions: Improved Decision Making With a Single Training Intervention (Morwedge et al, 2015) –

LessWrong, an online community & blog archive for fans of debiasing & rationality –

The Center for Applied Rationality –

THUNK – 125. What Is Consciousness?

There’s much ado about “consciousness,” but what even is it? What’s the big deal? How hard could it be? @_@

-Links for the Curious-

If you are *at all* interested in this topic, please please please read the SEP entry on consciousness, it’s just fantastic –

What It Is Like to Be a Bat (Nagel, 1974) –

Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (Chalmers, 1995) –

A summary of Paul Churchland’s “Matter and Consciousness,” specifically oriented at summarizing common positions about the mind/body problem (Blackman) –

Continuity, Consciousness, and Identity in Hume’s Philosophy (Yandell) ––v18n2.pdf

Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977) –

Introspection and verbal reports on cognitive processes—Two approaches to the study of thinking: A response to Howe (Ericsson & Crutcher, 1991) –

For a contrasting opinion: “When Does Introspection Bear Fruit? Self-Reflection, Self-Insight, and Interpersonal Choices” (Hixon & Swann, 1993) –

What is Consciousness? (Vsauce, 2012) –


THUNK – 124. Play Theory

All work & no play make Jack not only dull, but also less productive, healthy, neurologically developed…

QUICK NOTE: The most commonly-cited explanation for animal play (practicing direct analogs of survival behavior) doesn’t square with all the evidence. Check out this paper:

-Links for the Curious-

“Taking Play Seriously,” by Robin Marantz Henig –

Juvenile peer play experience and the development of the orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices (Bell, Pellis, & Kolb 2009) –

“More Play, Please – The Perspective of Kindergarten Teachers on Play in the Classroom” (Lynch 2015) –

“Vygotsky Meets Neuroscience – The Cerebellum and the Rise of Culture through Play” (Vandervert 2015)

“Plans Unveiled for Star Wars-Inspired Themed Resort at Walt Disney World,” by Jennifer Fickley-Baker –

The National Institute for Play, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating play for adults & children –

“Symbolic Play: The Development of Social Understanding” (Bretherton 1984) –

“The Ambiguity of Play” (Sutton-Smith, 1987) –

“How Play Makes for a More Adaptable Brain, a Comparative & Neural Perspective” (Pellis, Pellis, & Himmler 2015) –

“The Nature of Play – An Overview” (Henricks 2008) –

“Animal Play: Evolutionary, Comparative, and Ecological Perspectives” (Summary by Bekoff & Beyers, 1998) –

“Examining playfulness in adults: Testing its correlates with personality, positive psychological functioning, goal aspirations, and multi-methodically assessed ingenuity” (Proyer 2012) –


THUNK – 123. Personal Identity & the Transporter Paradox

What makes me “me?” How can I still be me, even though I change over time? Is Starfleet taking applications yet?

-Links for the Curious-

CGP Grey’s amazing “The Trouble with Transporters” –

PhilosophyTube’s very thorough (& speedy!) coverage of personal identity –

The SEP’s brilliant article on personal identity (including major problems & possible solutions) –

“Teletransportation Paradox,” via Wikipedia –

Thomas Reid’s scathing letter to Lord Kames regarding the Resurrection (the OG transporter paradox) –

A brief summary of Hume’s work on personal identity (aka bundle theory) –

THUNK – 121. Teleological Bias

Teleology: explaining things via their intended purpose. Turns out we’ve a tendency to use it *everywhere.*

-Links for the Curious-

“Why Are Rocks Pointy? Children’s Preference for Teleological
Explanations of the Natural World” (Kelemen, 1999) –

“Intuitions About Origins: Purpose and Intelligent Design in Children’s Reasoning About Nature” (Kelemen & DiYanni, 2005) –

“The Human Function Compunction: Teleological explanation in adults” (Kelemen 2009)

Students’ preconceptions in introductory mechanics (Clement, 1981) –

“Why we evolved the urge to explain,” via the Rationally Speaking Podcast –

“Explanada,” Tania Lombrozo’s Blog-

THUNK – 120. Business Networking

Networking is an essential part of career advancement in business today, but should it be?

-Links for the Curious-

Networking, Corruption, and Subversion (Ned Dobos, 2015) –

A general summary by Dobos on his paper –

Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians (Goldin & Rouse, 1997) –

Do informal contacts increase labor market inequality? Social ties, job access and wages for the unemployed (Oesch & von Ow, 2015) –

The Impact of Social Structure on Economic Outcomes (Granovetter, 2005) –

Sifting and Sorting: Personal Contacts and Hiring in a Retail Bank (Fernandez & Weinberg, 1997) –

Three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends (WSJ, Christopher Ingraham, 2014) –

Manager Race and the Race of New Hires (Giuliano, Levine, & Leonard, 2006) –

Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity (BLS Reports, 2012) –

41 CFR 60-300.5 – Equal opportunity clause (Via Cornell Law School) –

Structured Interviewing: Avoiding Selection Problems (Pursell, Camplon, & Gaylord, 1980) –

Summary of Research on the Selection Interview Since 1964 (Wright Jr., 1969) –

How AI Is Changing Your Job Hunt (Fortune, Alsever, 2017) –

THUNK – 119. The Limits of Order & Harmony

Un/satisfying gif albums are scratching a very human itch. Where does it come from, & does it mean anything?

-Links for the Curious-

Perception of Symmetry in Infancy, Bornstein et al –

Bilateral symmetry & sexual selection: a meta-analysis, Møller & Thornhill

Sorting preference in children with autism: the dominance of concrete features, Ropar & Peebles –

The Existential Satisfaction of Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things, Julie Beck –

The Dollar Auction Game: A Paradox in Noncooperative Behavior & Escalation, Martin Shubik –

What is Godel’s Theorem?, Melvin Henriksen –

Pythagorean Tuning –

The Square Root of Two, Numberphile –

Creepy Out of Tune Piano –

THUNK – 117. SETI & Dyson Spheres

Why are so many smart people interested in finding alien intelligence…and where should we look for them?

*Links for the Curious*

“Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation,” by Freeman Dyson –

“How Japan Plans to Build an Orbital Solar Farm,” by Susumu Sasaki –

The SETI Institute YouTube Channel (Very Highly Recommended!) –

“Frontiers in Artifact SETI: Waste Heat, Alien Megastructures & Tabbys Star,” by Jason Wright –

THUNK – 116. The War on Science

The so-called “War on Science” isn’t about hostility, it’s a simple case of forgetting how science is different.

-Links for the Curious-

The March for Science Website –

“The War on Science,” by Shawn Otto, a very thorough analysis of the history & causes of the political & social efforts to deliberately undermine scientific authority –

Scientific American: “Is There Really a War on Science?” –

Slate: “The war on science is a trap. The science march should step carefully.” –

91. Spanking & Anecdotal Evidence –

88. Hume’s Guillotine & Rational Morality –

90. Science vs. Philosophy, an Ancient (Non-)Debate –

79. Science, Pseudoscience, & the Demarcation Problem –

Some great examples of how bias can cause us to wander away from the scientific method (thanks Your2ndPlanB!):

Gender bias in research: how does it affect evidence based medicine? by Anita Holdcroft –

A framework to analyse gender bias in epidemiological research –

THUNK – 115. The Motte & Bailey Fallacy

Motte & Bailey Arguments: because defending your actual position is *way* harder than defending a trivial one.

-Links for the Curious-

“The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology,” by Nicholas Shackel –

“Archaeology of Knowledge,” by Michel Foucault, Shackel’s ur-punching bag for Motte-and-Bailey-ing –

“The Social Construction of Reality,” by Berger & Luckmann –

“All in All, Another Brick in the Motte,” by Scott Alexander –

“Motte & Baileys Explained,” by Lagan History –

THUNK – 114. Shades of Skepticism

Skepticism is an essential tool for rational thought, but knowing when & how to use it is hard…I think???

(NOTE: the form of skepticism described here is sometimes known as “radical skepticism.”)

-Links for the Curious-

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Skepticism –

Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing, Kahan et al, 2017 –

Skepticism on RationalWiki (a resourse of the “skeptic” community, essentially advocates of scientific primacy) –

THUNK 18 – Skepticism & Empiricism (where I cover an alternate version of skepticism called Pyrrhonian skepticism) –

THUNK 86 – Cognitive Biases & the Socratic Method –

THUNK 58 – The Problem of Induction –

THUNK – 113. Memetics & Punching Nazis

In the constant struggle between memes, the punching of Nazis barely scratches the surface of the conflict.

CW: Physical assault

-Links for the Curious-

Spencer punched while explaining his Pepe the Frog pin –

Dawkins on Memes –

CGP Grey on Complementary Outrage –

PBS Idea Channel on Pepe the Frog –

Dan Dennett on Dangerous Memes –

“On Liberty,” by John Stuart Mill, an important building block of our current understanding of free speech & harm –

The SEP’s fantastic summary of the nuances of freedom of speech –

THUNK – 111. Populism

Donald Trump’s election is another victory for a worldwide trend of populism…what is it & why is it happening?

QUICK NOTE: I really gloss over the identity component of populist rhetoric here – the “purity” of the groups in question (be they red-blooded ‘Muricans or blonde blue-eyed “Aryans”) is a critical component of a lot of this rhetoric. I didn’t want to invoke tribal sensitivity to accusations of racism – race frequently serves this role, but it’s a broader effect than that.

*Links for the Curious*

Foreign Affairs, “The Power of Populism,” a collection of neat articles highlighting some of the potential causes of the global populist trend –

The Economist Explains: What is Populism? –

“Right-wing vs. progressive populism: How to win in these populist Trump times” by Jonathan Matthew Smucker –