Think Again

4th February 2021

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

We have long been fans of Adam Grant, whose powerful book Give and Take is one of our favorites.  His newest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, is worth the price of the book in the first chapters alone. Grant nails it, for example, with his discussion of the problems of being too smart—as our own Santiago Ramon y Cajal has pointed out, geniuses can flounder not because of their intelligence, but because of their lack of flexibility.  Key graf:

“Mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. No matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again. Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns. And recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs. One study investigated whether being a math whiz makes you better at analyzing data. The answer is yes—if you’re told the data are about something bland, like a treatment for skin rashes. But what if the exact same data are labeled as focusing on an ideological issue that activates strong emotions—like gun laws in the United States? Being a quant jock makes you more accurate in interpreting the results—as long as they support your beliefs. Yet if the empirical pattern clashes with your ideology, math prowess is no longer an asset; it actually becomes a liability. The better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fail at analyzing patterns that contradict your views. If they were liberals, math geniuses did worse than their peers at evaluating evidence that gun bans failed. If they were conservatives, they did worse at assessing evidence that gun bans worked. In psychology there are at least two biases that drive this pattern. One is confirmation bias: seeing what we expect to see. The other is desirability bias: seeing what we want to see. These biases don’t just prevent us from applying our intelligence. They can actually contort our intelligence into a weapon against the truth. We find reasons to preach our faith more deeply, prosecute our case more passionately…” 

Adam’s fascinating book contains so much more, on “idea cults,” the problems with perspective-taking, resisting the impulse to simplify, the difference between skepticism and denialism…  The insights don’t stop coming. Think Again is also a great book for audio

The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People

We’re on a bit of an Adam Grant binge here today by also drawing your attention to his most-recent op-ed in the New York Times on how to reason with unreasonable people. The key? Truly understanding their perspectives. As Grant notes: “When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire—and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.”

Grant wanted a friend to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines—but Grant realized if he really wanted to do so, he needed to rethink his approach, including his tendencies toward being a logic bully. The real person who changed in this exercise? Grant himself.

Routine childhood vaccines decline amidst COVID-19 pandemic

And speaking of vaccinations, Barb’s oldest sister Carolyn was amongst the last of the children to catch polio before vaccines became available (Carolyn’s sad life was recounted in Barb’s autobiographical Evil Genes.) Witnessing polio’s effects up close has made Barb all the more interested in how vaccinations can change lives.  This interview article  with Barb’s pediatrician daughter Rosie Oakley in the Black Hills Pioneer gives an overview of what’s happening in rural areas with vaccinations—and is not too far off describing what’s happening in urban areas, as well. Key grafs:

“This year in particular there has certainly been a drop off in immunizations,” [Rosie] said. “We have families that are nervous to take their children into clinic because of COVID, and so they are skipping multiple well child checks.” Oakley said the drop in regular visits and vaccinations worries her because children who are not vaccinated miss out on a critical period for protection against diseases, some of which can be life threatening. Oakley cited meningitis (an infection of fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord), and epiglottitis (a condition that occurs when cartilage surrounding the windpipe swells and blocks air flow to the lungs) as two main examples.

“There are some life threatening illnesses prevented by vaccines that occur more often in kids, such as epiglottitis,” Oakley said. “This is why it is so important to immunize children before they are adults. It is for the same reason we make children wear seatbelts in the car, cover electrical outlets in the home, or give them bitter tasting medicine when they have an infection: they are too young to know better and it is in their best interest.

“Every year in our community we have multiple children who come into our clinic or emergency department with life threatening illnesses that could have been prevented if they had been immunized,” she continued.

Learning How to Learn with Learning Issues 

LHTLer Megan C writes to tell us: “My 14-year-old daughter has struggled with learning issues which were only diagnosed last year. After taking your course, I purchased Learning How to Learn and made her read it. She has applied many of the strategies to her own learning and is now crushing it at school. She is applying to independent high school and she was asked to write about a book that she read outside of school that has made a significant impact on her life. This is what she wrote: 

A book that I really enjoyed over the past year is Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terry Sejnowski. This book is about how to properly and efficiently study. It shows diagrams and pictures of strategies to study. It is based on neuroscience, something I am fascinated by. At the end of every chapter there are guiding questions to help the reader remember the material more. I liked this book because I can sometimes have trouble focusing and finding a good study strategy. After reading this book, I have learned a lot of helpful strategies that I have used this school year. For example, I study for 25 minutes and do not stop. Then after 25 minutes, I take a 15 minute break. I have found this strategy really helpful. I think it is interesting to use science about the brain to help you develop better learning habits.  

Thank you for helping my daughter develop a sense of agency in her own learning growth. 

Don’t forget to remembermemory champion Nelson Dellis has squeezed a few final slots open at Barb’s request

Nelson’s wonderful memory mastery course now has a final extra slot just for you (if you get there fast enough!) before enrollment closes today.  Enroll here—your memory will thank you! 

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

View more Cheery Friday e-mails >