Four Incredibly Useful Books on Fallacy and Cognitive Bias

Readers, this is a somewhat off-topic post... that is, if you think the food industry and the various writers and bloggers who comment on it are somehow immune to bias and fallacy.

The idea for this post came from a conversation with a friend who writes an insightful blog about abusive relationships (thanks, Taz, for all you do!). It's a list of helpful and highly readable books to help you identify and eliminate biases, fallacies and mental blind spots.

We’ve all got 'em. Might as well learn about them, understand them--and limit the damage they do.

You Are Not So Smart
This book will make you conversant in nearly every form of cognitive bias. Better still, you’ll also be conversant in a memorable (and sometimes hilarious) experiment or study demonstrating each cognitive bias. Why is knowing these amusing studies important? So that when you catch someone in an act of cognitive bias you can quickly tell them about the study before they throw something at you. This book was so helpful to me that I took eight full pages of notes from it. Also, see author David McRaney’s follow-up book You Are Now Less Dumb.

Stumbling on Happiness
You'll never trust your memory nor any of your predictions after reading this book (believe it or not, this is a good thing!). Particularly useful is author Dan Gilbert's insightful discussion of how we misperceive what we will value in the future--an insight with gigantic ramifications today for our health, wealth and happiness. Gilbert is an excellent writer, and he shares an astonishing amount of insight and knowledge about how our memories are fallible in sneaky yet predictable ways.

The Invisible Gorilla
An extraordinarily useful book that will teach you the illusions and paradoxes of human perception and cognition. The easiest read on today’s list.

Fooled by Randomness
If there’s any area where our cognitive frailties can be truly costly, it’s in our saving, spending and investing decisions. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and a lot of lost future investment money if you carefully read this book, which discusses the illusions of "great" investment performance and how luck and skill in investing are usually indistinguishable. See also Nicholas Taleb’s follow-up work The Black Swan and his most recent book Antifragile. All three of these books will change how you think.

Being Wrong
The granddaddy of all the books on this list, in my opinion, is Kathryn Schulz's brilliant book Being Wrong. It's an exploration of the fundamental nature of human error via history, philosophy, psychology and even the investment world. This was one of the most unexpectedly fascinating and provocative books I’ve read in years, and I find myself recommending it constantly.

[Unrelated bizarre sidenote: The authors of Being Wrong, Fooled By Randomness and The Invisible Gorilla were all--weirdly--plagiarized by the same man!]

Which brings me to my final point: Why am I talking about bias, fallacy and cognitive blind spots in a food blog? Well, to start with, if you think this isn't a place where we should seek to counteract our biases, well... you're biased. But let me ask: have you ever...

...wondered if Big Food is out to get us?
...concluded (uh, falsely) that healthy food has to be expensive or time-consuming?
...made lousy dietary choices, and then rationalized those choices afterward?
...assumed we could fix complex problems like obesity if we could just figure out whom or what to tax?
...decided that you’d be helping the world if you (and everyone else) ate 100% local?
...concluded that some people are just "lucky" or have "good genes" in order to justify your own personal health, weight and dietary miscues?
...underestimated the true capabilities of your body and your mind?

If you don't think your cognitive biases play a deceptive role in each of the questions above, you're... in denial. :)

Related Posts:
Never From Concentrate? Never Again
A Fund For... Who, Exactly? Addressing the "A Fund For Jennie" Controversy
How to Defeat the Retail Industry's Ninja Mind Tricks
On Spice Fade, And the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months

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