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Thinking about thinking: All the extra bits

This is the final part in Max Ross' series

In the research and writing of this series on metacognition I came across a number of smaller interesting laws and effects. This final article in the series will be a collection of all the things I didn’t want to leave out.

In the television show Cosmos Carl Sagan said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” which has become known as Sagan’s standard. He used it when talking about the existence of aliens. This didn’t fit into the article about fake news and I really like its simplicity.

Benford's law of controversy states that “passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available”. The more passionate people are about a controversy perhaps the less they know, or maybe there is more controversy around things we don’t understand.

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon in which high expectations lead to improved performance. Named after the Greek sculptor who was so in love with the beautiful statue that he had carved, that it came to life. The idea is that if you have high expectations people will rise to meet them and if you have low expectations these will also be met. Also called the Rosenthal effect after an educational paper that looked at the expectations that teachers had over their students and the educational outcomes. In his experiment teachers were told that a certain group of students were intellectual bloomers and at the end of this study those students' IQ scores had improved more than the control. It’s another idea that seems right when you hear about it, however, after two weeks with the teachers all of its effects disappeared and there are some serious concerns about how the study was run. Maybe this is an example of Confirmation bias instead.

The most famous law is Murphy’s law. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. When working on the development of rocket sleds Edward Murphy coined the law. It became wildly popular and Edward didn’t like the way it was being interpreted. He didn’t think of Murphy’s law as being that bad stuff will always happen, rather it was a way of designing for and thinking about worst case scenarios. He felt that the way his law was being used was "ridiculous, trivial and erroneous". It’s kind of Murphy’s law that you will not like the way your law is being used!

There is a related law called Muphry’s law which is a deliberate misspelling of Murphy’s law which states that “If you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.” which as a writer I took to heart.

A law that I found really clever and funny is Hofstadter’s law which states that “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.”

Looking at the way we act in illogical and irrational ways helps us to avoid acting this way in the future. Other people are aware of our biases and can use them against us. The brain and how we think is a fascinating subject.

Thank you Max Ross for all your episodes of Thinking About Thinking.

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