The one sentence summary

To be brilliant, you have to be irrational – ideas that don’t make sense have surprising power.


  • The author sets out 11 rules of alchemy:
  • The opposite of a good idea can also be a good idea.
  • Don’t design for average.
  • It doesn’t pay to be logical if everyone else is being logical.
  • The nature of our attention affects the nature of our experience.
  • A flower is simply a weed with an advertising budget.
  • The problem with logic is that it kills off magic.
  • A good guess which stands up to observation is still science. So is a lucky accident.
  • Test counterintuitive things only because no one else will.
  • Solving problems using rationality is like playing golf with only one club.
  • Dare to be trivial.
  • If there were a logical answer, we would have found it.


  • Economic logic assumes that everyone makes rational decisions, but they don’t. Psycho-logic takes the vagaries of irrationality into account.
  • Alchemy is not pure irrationality – it is second-order social intelligence applied to an uncertain world. Simple economic models have a narrow view of human motivation and so pose a threat to the human imagination.
  • If we could resist the urge to be logical just some of the time, and devote that time instead to the pursuit of alchemy, what might we discover?
  • As American physicist Richard Feyman explains, when we look for a new law, first we guess it, then we compute the consequences of the guess.
  • Just a few wrong assumptions in statistics can lead to intelligent people being spectacularly wrong. When you multiply bullshit with bullshit, you don’t get a bit more bullshit – you get bullshit squared.
  • What really is and what we perceive can be very different.
  • Perception may map neatly on to behaviour, but reality does not map neatly onto perception.
  • Behaviour comes first; attitude changes to keep up.
  • We spend a lot of time signalling to ourselves – a form of self-placebo. As an active verb, evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls this self-placebbing.


  • Nothing. The footnotes alone are an inspiring read.