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How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life Paperback – March 5, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0029117064 ISBN-10: 0029117062 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (March 5, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029117062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029117064
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sports fans who think that basketball players shoot in "hot streaks," and maternity nurses who maintain that more babies are born when the moon is full adhere to erroneous beliefs, according to Gilovich, associate professor of psychology at Cornell. With examples ranging from the spread of AIDS to the weight of Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, he skewers popular but mistaken assumptions. Faulty reasoning from incomplete or ambiguous data, a tendency to seek out "hypothesis-confirming evidence" and the habit of self-serving belief are among the factors Gilovich pinpoints in his sophisticated anaylsis. However, in the book's second half, his debunking of holistic medicine, ESP and paranormal phenomena is superficial and one-sided, marred by some of the very tendencies he effectively exposes in the "true believers."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

The subtexts of this first-class critique of human (non)reason are that we all tell ourselves lies (at least some of the time)...that if you want to believe it's true, it is (faith healing, ESP)...that humans can't help seeing patterns where none exist (in clouds, in disastrous events, in gamblers' streaks). Furthermore, if you would like to learn more about how not to deceive yourself, you might take a course in one of the ``soft'' probabilistic sciences like psychology. This might be construed as self-serving, since Gilovich happens to teach psychology at Cornell. However, the point is well taken because such courses should expose students to a minimum of statistics--such as the law of regression, which says that when two variables are partially related, extremes in one variable are matched, on average, by less extreme variables in the other. (Children of tall parents are tall, but not as tall as their parents.) Gilovich attributes the general lack of appreciation of the law to ``the compelling nature of judgment by representation''--by which the predicted outcome should be as close to the data as possible: the son of a 6'5'' dad should be close to 6'5''. Gilovich also points to other pitfalls in reasoning, such as failure to record negative outcomes (how many times do you dream of an old friend and not bump into him the next day?). And he discusses deeper motives--e.g., fear of dying, prospects of power or immortality, and similar self-aggrandizing traits that fortify superstitions and the will to believe. Altogether, a satisfying splash of skepticism and reason in a world where the Lake Wobegon phenomenon--``the women are strong, the men are good-looking and all the children are above average''- -prevails. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I'm off to read the book yet again.
R. Johnson
The book is an enjoyable read because the author has a very conversational style which places the reader at ease.
Jim Davis
This book try to explain to you the fallibility of human reason in everyday life.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

242 of 257 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel on March 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mr. Gilovich says ". . . there are inherent biases in the data upon which we base our beliefs, biases that must be recognized and overcome if we are to arrive at sound judgments and valid beliefs." The cost of these biases is real and severe. This book explains why people are prone to wrong thinking, and ways they can counteract this.

Here are points that Mr. Gilovich made:

1. Seeing Order in Randomness - We all have a natural tendency to see order in data, even when the data is totally random and irregular. We do this even when we have no personal reason to see order. This happens especially when we remember facts from the past. Our memory plays tricks on us by emphasizing any possible patterns, and forgetting irregularities that might refute the patterns. For instance, basketball players often think that if they make one successful basket, then they are more likely to make the next basket - because they remember times when this has happened to them. "When you're hot, you're hot." However, objective statistical studies done on when successful baskets are made show that, if anything, the opposite is true.

This natural tendency to misconstrue random events is called the "clustering illusion." Chance events often seem to us to have some order to them, but when the law of averages is applied objectively, this order disappears. This error is compounded when our active imagination tries to create theories for why there should be order. Because of this, we need to be careful when we draw conclusions based on a sequence we think we see in some data.

2. Looking for Confirmation - We all have a natural tendency to look for "yes" instead of "no." If we have an idea, we tend to look for evidence that will confirm our idea, not evidence that will disprove it.
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136 of 142 people found the following review helpful By taoman on June 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
A well-written book that focuses on the common errors human beings make when trying to comprehend the world around them, and form opinions. Central ponits: that we try to make order out of chaos, even when there is no order; that we filter what we hear according to our own biases; and that wishful thinking can distort reality. He sets up the cases in a very readable way, and then gives examples of a few erroneous beliefs and their consequences. This is where you may find some disagreeing with him. The case studies include ESP and Homeopathy. If you subscribe to those fallacies, you will probably be challenged during that section of the book. Since there are NO reputable studies that support them, that is to the good. Finally, he gives us a clue into how we can better evaluate what information we are presented with. While not a scholarly work on "Critical Thinking" (such as "Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking") it would be a wonderful companion book to "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" by Shermer and Gould. You owe it to yourself to read this and consider it fairly.
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146 of 155 people found the following review helpful By ltp1 on April 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Sports Illustrated curse is NOT real. Our gut feelings about winning streaks and losing streaks are way off. And there's sort of an illusion that makes punishment look more effective than it probably is and reward look less effective than it probably is (reward has a tougher row to hoe, in fact). These are among Gilovich's more memorable points. Each is backed up with plain reasoning AND hard data.
It's just the kind of book that'll make you THINK about what you're thinking. An excellent start down that path, one we all need to take. I enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. I have re-read parts of it a few times in the years since I first bought it.
Written by a social psychologist for a lay audience. It's well organized and easily digestible as long as you are willing to stop and think every so often as you read.
I'd like to see this book handed out to every new college student, or, maybe better, required reading for every high school student.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Berzal Galiano on August 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book provides a well-organized survey of issues that limit our reasoning abilities:

- Our misperception of random events, as in the "clustering illusions" that lead us to believe in the hot hand, for example.

- Our misunderstanding of statistical regression, which, for instance, affects our perception of the roles of reward and punishment in education.

- Our tendency to seek confirmatory information, as in the justification of our choices.

- Our inability to see what could have happened under different circumstances, as in self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g. a negative first impression or the presumed insolvency of a financial institution).

- Our own biases that make us expose inconsistent information to more critical scrutiny than consistent information.

- Asymmetries that distort what we recall and, thus, what we take into account to evaluate the validity of beliefs (as in multiple endpoints situations or one-sided events).

- Our tendency to believe what we want to believe (specially about ourselves), as if beliefs were possessions.

- The distortions present in secondhand information (a.k.a. sharpening and leveling).

- The influence of what we think others believe (and also of the inadequate feedback we often receive about that).

These limitations make us draw incorrect conclusions and bolster erroneous beliefs. Being aware of them helps us in distinguishing what we know well from what we only think is true. Just this is of utmost importance for thinking clearly. Could there be a better reason for reading this book?
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