New Book “You Are Not So Smart” explains why our sense of self and the world isn’t what we tell ourselves it is

Photo by LOLren, and used in conjunction with Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

For the last couple months, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the new book “You Are Not So Smart” by David McRaney, author of the fantastic blog of the same name,

The book deals with psychology, but it is written in such a way that anyone can enjoy the topics that McRaney covers. He uses everyday examples to make his fascinating points, but it is because he uses such ordinary illustrations to highlight various psychological fallacies that they become engaging. While McRaney cites lots of studies, his writing isn’t dry or academic. At times, the writing is even humorous.

If I had to give an overview of McRaney, I would say it’s the idea that: we tend to think of ourselves as rational and objective with how we take in the world. In a day and age of mass media and the internet, we have access to a constant stream of information, and we use that information and our past experiences to educate ourselves and to form well reasoned opinions based on the facts.

All of those things, McRaney argues, are myths.

McRaney believes that we are constantly changing our sense of self, that we are impressionable to our environment and individuals with whom we interact, and that even things like our memories of past experiences can easily become flawed.

“Normally you are oblivious to your faulty reconstruction of memory. Not only is your memory easily altered by the influence of others, you also smooth over the incongruences, rearrange time lines, and invent scenarios, but rarely notice you’re doing this until you see yourself in a video, or hear another person’s version of the events. You tend to see your memories as a continuous, consistent movie, yet if you think of the last film you saw, how much of it can you recall? Could you sit back, close your eyes, and recall in perfect detail every scene, every line of dialog? Of course not.”

From the book, You Are Not So Smart

The book is divided into 48 short chapters which deal with various inconsistencies between how we think we think and how we actually think.

The chapters in the book are written in the same style and format as the posts on his blog. In many ways, his blog is a breath of fresh air.

When many blogs become popular, writers start to churn out a constant stream of drivel to keep people coming back. With McRaney, less is more in terms of the quantity of posts. It’s not a blog that’s updated every day (not necessarily every week, even), but when he does write, the posts are great. There are few blogs on the internet that keep me as eager to come back for more as You Are Not So Smart. I had hugely high expectations that the book would be the same way. McRaney did not disappoint.

I would highly recommend this book. Yes, he chips away at a lot of ideas that we hold near and dear to our hearts, but don’t be affraid. Before anything in his book or on his website would truly shake the foundations on which your beliefs are built, your mind would likely come up with a justification as to why he’s wrong so as to protect the world of your psyche from collapsing on you like a botched awakening in the movie Inception.