Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking

“Mindware:  Tools for Smart Thinking” is by Richard E. Nisbett who is a Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.  He is respected worldwide, who has received a slew of prestigious awards.  HIs research deals primarily with how we think.  So these tools for smart thinking are based on solid research.  These tools taken together constitute mindware on how to use our minds.

Nisbett has divided the book into six parts.  Part I deals with thinking about thought.  All our thoughts are inferences, which he explains in some detail.  The situation in which events take place are very important and should influence our thinking. As has been mentioned many times previously in the healthy memory blog  a vast amount of cognitive processing is unconscious.  Our conscious thought is merely the tip of the iceberg.  He discusses the rational unconscious.

Part II is titled The Formerly Dismal Science.  The dismal science is economics and Nisbett addresses behavioral economics.  Classical economics is based on a rational human, but the economic behavior of humans is far from rational.  NIsbett  discusses the common economic errors humans commit and how to avoid them.

Part III is titled Coding, Counting, Correlation, and Causality.  He explains how you can perform your own data analysis, and assess correlations.  And he discusses when inferences regarding causality can be valid.

Part IV is titled Experiments.  It explains how to avoid the HIPPO, the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.  He distinguishes between natural experiments and experiments proper.  He reviews accepted programs and practices that have not been proven to be effective.  Sometimes there is little, and sometimes there is no evidence for their existence (Rorschach tests, for example).  He advises researchers not to ask, because many times research participants cannot tell you why they thought or performed certain actions.  Ver often, these explanations are after the fact explanations generated, unknowingly, by the participant.

Part V is titled Thinking, Straight and Curved.  Here the role of logic is discussed along with dialectical reasoning.  The immediately preceding post briefly addressed dialectical reasoning.

Part VI is titled Knowing the World.  The philosophy and history of science is discussed here.  The concepts of reductionism and emergence are reviewed.  Thomas Kuhn’s important book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” is discussed with respect to psychological research.

The conclusion is titled “The Tools of the Lay Scientist.”  I fear that too many people, including many who vote are naive realists.  Nisbett disabuses them of their naivety.  But he goes way beyond that.  He provides the tools we need as lay scientists.   Believe me, if we lived in a culture of lay scientists we would be much better off than being in a culture in which people are suffering from hardening of their categories and strongly held beliefs.  Lay scientists make much better citizens.

I strongly recommend MIndware.  It is a volume ideally suited for growth mindsets.

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