The one sentence summary

To make decent decisions, find out if there is a consensus among the experts, inform yourself, and act accordingly.


  • These are tools for smart thinking by an eminent psychologist. He covers:
  1. Thinking about thought: how to make better use of our minds.
  2. Choices: the contrast between conventional and behavioural economics.
  3. Categorizations: how to make them more accurately, and avoid seeing relationships when they aren’t actually there (we often do).
  4. Causality: how to work out whether things truly are linked.
  5. Thinking, straight and curved: western logic is abstract and formal, whereas eastern dialectical reasoning is more universal.
  • His main advice on any issue is:
  1. Try to find out whether there is such a thing as expertise about the question. There is no expertise about astrology, for example.
  2. If there is expertise, try to find out if there is a consensus among the experts.
  3. If there is consensus, then the stronger it is, the less choice you have about whether to accept it.


  • Psychological research has three major insights about the way the mind works:
  1. Our understanding of the world is always a matter of construal – of inference and interpretation.
  2. The situations we find ourselves in affect our thoughts and determine behaviour far more than we realise.
  3. The unconscious mind registers far more environmental information than the conscious mind could possibly notice.
  • There are no facts – only regimes of truth.
  • How can we be sure that what we believe is actually true?
  • Why is it that simpler explanations are usually more useful than more complicated ones?
  • How can we avoid coming up with slipshod and overly facile theories?
  • Thinking about just anything in any old way is not likely to make you smarter.
  • Self-reports – our versions of why we think and do things – are usually highly unreliable. In other words, we don’t really know why we do things.
  • Any stimulus triggers spreading activation – a set of mental concepts we don’t really understand and can’t control.
  • Avoid the Post hoc ergo propter hoc error: after this, therefore because of this. Just becomes something happens next doesn’t mean that A caused B.

 “Almost any comedian can be great some of the time. The successful ones are those who can be at least good all the time.” Steve Martin

 “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” Einstein


  • There is a huge amount of material here, so you need to work through it methodically.