Tag Archives: psychology

The Path from Belief to Knowledge: 5 Levels of Certainty

how to think like a scientist

An old friend of mine recently told me that video games are harmful for my kids’ brain. When I asked him why he thought that, he didn’t bring up some scientific data or research. Instead, he pointed to an acquaintance of ours whose kids are gifted and guess what? They never play video games.

I was flabbergasted.

How can a university-educated man show so little critical thinking and make such unbridled inference? Of course, I quickly made him admit that a ton of other variables could play a role here. And even if a correlation existed, as any college freshman knows, it wouldn’t imply causation.

This story highlights one important fact about belief and knowledge.

As Gary Marcus shows in Kluge, humans often believe first and think later, rather than the other way around. In other words, once we decide that something is true (for whatever reason), we’ll look for reasons to support that belief. The conclusion comes before the premises.

This is a fascinating topic, which I’ll explore in a future post, but today I want to talk about the truth. No less.

How can we make sure that A causes B? How do I know if video games will really damage my kids?

Here are 5 degrees of certainty.

  1. Anecdotes. People just love anecdotal evidence (ex: this cured my brother-in-law), because it’s vivid and personal. But understand this, it’s the weakest kind of proof you can offer.
  2. Experts’ opinion. Experts’ knowledge is more comprehensive, but it often suffers from biases.
  3. Empirical research. This is where beliefs start becoming knowledge, but its reliability level greatly varies due to the presence or not of controls (variables and groups) and peer review.
  4. Meta-analysis. When findings of several independent studies point in the same direction, your claim rests on a solid foundation.
  5. Mega-analysis. When meta-analyses say the same thing, this is as good as it gets. A good example is Hattie’s Visible Learning, which is a synthesis of 800 meta-analyses including 80 million students.

As a peak learner, assessing the validity of new data and current beliefs should become a reflex. Using the 5 levels of certainty presented here can be an excellent start.

Happiness Is An Empty Head

thinking optimization

One of my colleagues lives in perpetual bliss. Do you know his secret? He keeps his mind in the present and won’t let his pre-frontal cortex interfere with his life. Of course, such a strategy has the downside of severely limiting your growth, doesn’t it?

But recently, I’ve found a way to reach his level of happiness without sacrificing my future.

You first need to understand that our brain was originally programmed to live in the present. Our memory basically works as an adaptive mechanism, and our planning skills seem to be quite recent. But if you try to follow nature and don’t have tenure, our result-oriented world will eat you alive.

So how can you reconcile your psychological makeup with the demands of your environment? The key is to regularly empty your head into a bucket (i.e. your system). As David Allen brilliantly puts it, your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.

Next, you need to schedule time to think; otherwise, you won’t ever think. Seriously. Thinking doesn’t feel natural; it requires time and energy. Most people regurgitate and play back stuff in their mind and call this thinking.

Once you do regular brain dumps and develop effective thinking habits, you’ll be able to afford to walk around with an empty head like my colleague. Such peace of mind will increase not only your happiness, but also your thinking power.

After freeing up some psychic space, get ready to receive your best ideas.

How To Become A Peak Learner In 3 Steps

how to optimize your brain

I went to university for seven years and earned four degrees. During that time, nobody ever taught me how to study, think or learn better. Like most people, I’ve learned how to learn by trial and error.

As a teacher now, I must admit with some embarrassment that I rarely tell my students how they can improve their learning.

Today, I want to break that cycle, and present three key steps to peak learning.

A peak learner is someone who is able to quickly change his/her knowledge, skills and behavior to fit his/her environment. More precisely, it’s someone who can maximize the speed and size of that change.

In order to get there, you need to work on three areas: awareness, behavior and competence, or ABC.

First, there’s no real learning without awareness. Whether you’re learning Spanish, golf, or how to be nicer, you need to hone your sense of observation to differentiate what works fine from what works great. Even if you’re already getting feedback from a coach or a teacher, evaluating correctly your learning practices and results is essential.

Do you want to turbo-boost your self-assessment capacity? Keep a personal journal.

Second, like any top athlete, you need to implement effective habits or behaviors into your life.

Here’s a short list of five practices required to maintain a high level of learning performance: note-taking, irrelevant information removal, time management, regular workout and sufficient sleep.

The last step is central to your quest. You must master some crucial strategies and competences.

Here are ten of them, which I will cover in greater depth in this blog: active recall, pretesting, self-testing, elaborate encoding, deliberate practice, visualization, semantic organization, optimal theory/practice ratio, optimal rehearsal intervals, working memory enhancement, and perceptual strengthening.

Knowledge workers have no choice but to become peak learners. The future arrives faster and faster, and the lifespan of your technical skills and knowledge is therefore getting shorter and shorter.

Becoming a peak learner is really your best competitive edge.