12 strategies to think better

12 estrategias para pensar mejorIt is about the end of the year, and there are many lists of “l@s top 10” or “l@s top 12” of the most varied: from computer viruses, to videos, going through photos, and a long etcetera.

As you should already know the reader of this blog, a significant part of the posts are dedicated to the analysis or the promotion of critical thinking. So it is a good time to review the strategies 12 strategies to think better, that we proposed to Gary Marcus in his work Kluge: the haphazard construction of the human mind. I hope that we can put them into practice in 2012 with a higher constancy.

The book of Marcus has been a couple of years but, within the literature devoted to the cognitive biases, represents an approximation to the thought the most interesting thing: analyze our errors of reasoning as a result of the natural evolution of our minds.

The starting point of the work is that strange word that referred to in the title: kluge. A kluge, as defined by the author, is:

a solution of crude or inelegante – and, however, surprisingly effective – to a problem (p. 13)

The most striking feature of the kluges is that they are formed by a collection of pieces poorly organized, which apparently have nothing in common, but working together to solve a particular problem.

According to Marcus, our mind is a kluge. Why?

Both our body and our mind are the product of evolution by natural selection. As is often said, evolution takes advantage of what is beneficial to one organism at a given time, and allows its survival. In this way, the process is cumulative: different adaptations beneficial overlap over time to contribute to the survival of the organism. And this is the key point. There is nothing to guarantee that the result is optimal: the end organ may very well fulfil its function of contributing to the survival of the individual, but we could do it better than if it had been designed from the outset with a particular purpose. So the end result can be that mix of parts that, although sometimes poorly assembled, can serve to troubleshoot certain problems.

If we were the rational animal par excellence, if our minds have been designed by evolution for that purpose, we would not be surprised to be acting in ways as little rational as the us to show the cognitive biases. And is that the part of our brain that deals with rational behavior is recent in evolution, and is “mounted” on the other hand oldest, the one that controls impulses and emotions primary. The result is a continuous struggle between these two roles (emotional and rational). The result is a kluge.

What general aspects we can see that our mind is a kluge? Basically in the following:

Our memory is contextual and partial: this means that we remember in a way defective (even we say to remember things that have never happened); we remember more easily those events that, to us, they have a strong dye-emotional; and that an event brings to memory other that only we can believe of as related in any way.

Our training system of beliefs is a little sloppy: what we believe can be determined by different factors that have nothing to do with a rigorous evaluation of the available information, such as, for example, the halo effect.

The pursuit of pleasure dominates a large part of our actions: from the compulsive buying up the partner relationships, through gambling, addictions,…

Of course, these features make us human: if you do not poseeyeramos, we would be robots endowed with an extraordinary capacity for rational thought, but nothing more. In principle, there is nothing wrong in letting ourselves be carried away by the emotions, to be partial in our memories, or not spend one’s life trying to argue in a scientific manner everything in which we believe. But it is no less certain that the not be aware of these phenomena may give rise to phenomena such as media manipulation, prejudices, and injustices in the treatment of others,…

Marcus offers us 12 strategies, a product of his own research and the knowledge accumulated in cognitive psychology that can help us to think better, thus escaping the pitfalls that often give us such a kluge that is our mind:

1. Pose alternative hypotheses:

Something as simple as forcing us to make a list of alternatives can improve the reliability of the reasoning. (p. 200)

2. Rephrase the questions:

the way that we think about a question invariably set what we remember and what we remember affects the answers we arrived at. (p. 200)

3. Always remember that correlation does not imply causation (that is to say: two facts can be next to each other, without one has caused the other).

4. Always keep in mind the size of the samples:

From the statistics in medicine until the of baseball, the people often does not take into account the amount of data that has been used to extract its conclusions […] From the mathematical point of view, the greater is the muestram more reliable is the estimate. (p. 201)

5. Anticipate your own impulsivity, engaging in advance:

The temptation is greater when we have before us, so that we will better stand if we are prudent, that if we allow ourselves to be carried by the impulse of the moment (p. 203)

6. No that setting only objectives: we must also develop alternative plans:

the research carried out by the psychologist Peter Gollwitzer shows that by transforming the objectives in contingency plans specific -of the type “If X, then y” (for example, “If I see a bag of potato chips, won’t make or case”)- increase significantly the odds of success (p. 203)

7. Try not to make important decisions when we’re tired or have other things in the head:

If we want to reason only by means of the emotions, go ahead; but if you prefer to rationalize, it is important to create “winning conditions”, and for the important decisions, this implies a sufficient rest and a full concentration (pp. 203-204)

8. Weighing always of the benefits and the costs:

People tend to be in an attitude of “prevention”, giving more importance to the cost of their actions (“If I don’t go to the concert, will I lose the money I spent on the tickets”), or in an attitude of “promotion”, giving more importance to the benefits (“it Will be fun! What does it matter if tomorrow I come late to work?). Obviously, sound judgment requires weighing costs and benefits, but unless we are vigilant, our temperament and our mood are to be lodged (p. 204)

9. Let’s imagine that our decisions can be subject to inspection:

There are studies that demonstrate that people who think they have to justify their responses is more objective than not (p. 204)

10. Distanciémonos:

It is worth recognizing the differences between how we approach this and how we consider the future, and try and balance the two types of thinking -the immediate and the far-away – so as not to incur in the error of basing decisions exclusively on what is passed to us by the head at the moment (p. 205)

11. Beware the vivid, personal and anecdotal:

Maybe our ancestors quadruped could not avoid to pay attention to what resutaba more colorful or dramatic; we cannot afford to allocate a time for reflection, and we should take advantage of it and compensate for our vulnerability to the vivid by attributing greater value to the impersonal but scientific (p. 206)

12. To set preferences:

The decisions have a high cost, psychological, and even physical, and it would be impossible to postpone all the decisions until you have the complete information and the necessary time to reflect on each contingency and alternative (p. 206)

In fact, Marcus does not provide us with 12, but 13 strategies, but the strategy # 13 we may see it not as a strategy in itself, but as a declaration of principles:

13. Let us strive to be rational:

One of the most important reasons for that are worth striving to be rational is so that one, with practice, can be induced to use some of the other techniques that I have described […] be Said that one must be rational will probably not suffice, but it might help along with everything else (p. 207)


Marcus, Gary. Kluge: the haphazard construction of the human mind. Barcelona: Ariel, 2010.

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