I just finished reading The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons which is another must read for any skeptic. I think the most important thing is that it doesn’t talk about other people, it talks ourselves and the illusions that can deceive us. Also, due to a recent discussion of intuition and “obvious” it made a good supplement to my line of thought.
The title stems from a famous experiment conducted by the authors which is explained here. Basically it shows a video where people were asked to count the passes by the people in white shirts, and then a woman in a gorilla suit walked right in the middle and half the people didn’t notice! Most importantly if you had asked them before they watched the video whether they would see a gorilla walk across the room, they would have said yes!
The book just isn’t about the gorilla experiment, rather it is about how intuition is faulty and falls to fallacy with illusions. Those listed in the book:
- The illusion of perception
- The illusion of memory
- The illusion of knowledge
- The illusion of confidence
- The illusion of potential
- The illusion of cause
All these can lead us astray and should call the reader’s own beliefs based on intuition under serious consideration. For example, the our memories may not be what we think they are. The authors gave the anecdote of their friend stealing on of their memories and claiming it as his own! The friend didn’t do it intentionally, but when told the story he must have forgot the original source and thought it was one of his memories. The book cites studies and gives real world examples of how these illusions can affect our everyday beliefs. One of the best examples it gives is called change blindness. Imagine you are talking to a secretary, she bends down out of view under the desk to get some papers, and another woman wearing different clothes and looking completely different pops up. Would the people notice it? Would YOU notice it? It turns out that, no some people didn’t notice that the person they were talking to 5 seconds ago isn’t the same person they’re talking with now!
The most terrifying thing of course is when you see those traits in yourself. When you see that you are creating the illusion of knowledge [that is when we think we know more than we do] in your claims about something, it’s hard to admit and even harder to let go. After all it’s other people that usually do that right? Only those that aren’t as intelligent as me. But no, it happens to all of us and the less aware we are of the traps and illusions the easier it is for us to fall the them and miss the giant gorilla right in front of us.
I liked the book because it shows how to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to our claims, to watch out for the illusions in our claims, and to over all improve our worldviews.