Welcome to part 3 of a 10 part series:

How to get smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies

In this series I’ll be sharing with you 50 of the most important critical thinking tips, as well as all of the various cognitive biases and logical fallacies you need to avoid.

In this article I want to look at five incredibly common thinking errors that you maybe guilty of – even if you consider yourself a critical thinker:

  • Dismissing things you don’t understand
  • Assuming you’re smarter than the stranger you’re speaking with
  • Confusing your perspective for objective reality
  • Confusing feelings with facts
  • Believing every thought that passes through your head

Let’s begin…

40. Don’t dismiss things you don’t understand

“Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance” – Albert Einstein 

I’m often amazed at how incredibly closed-minded and dismissive most people are about things they know nothing about.

Without knowing anything at all about the subject matter, when most people hear something in conversation they’re unfamiliar with, they get uncomfortable and either:

  • Dismiss/ignore/reject it – as ‘irrelevant’ or ‘unimportant’
  • Mentally tune out – or try to change the topic to something more ‘interesting’
  • Have a very strong opinion about it – even though they don’t even know what it is

This behavior is extremely common. It happens all the time.

For example: Sometimes I’ll recommend an incredible life changing book to someone, and I’ll have them immediately shoot it down or try to one-up it with another book that I’ve also read, to which I’ll reply: “I’ve read (insert book), and it’s definitely a good one, but I’ve read hundreds of books on the subject, and I honestly think (insert recommendation) is the greatest book ever written on the subject.”

To which they’ll reply: “nah, (insert book) is better”.

I’ll then ask: “Do you know the book I’m referring to? Have you read it?”

To which they always reply: “No” before looking away uncomfortably. And for some reason that ends the conversation. They’re not interested in finding out more, to discover why I think or feel the way I do, or how I came to that conclusion.

They don’t dig deeper. They don’t look behind the surface. They don’t ask any further questions or display any intellectual curiosity. They’re too caught up with my initial claim which they’ve instantaneously judged as correct/incorrect, right/wrong, true/false, without knowing any of the facts I’ve used to support it.

It’s not just books either. It’s everything.

Too many people have opinions about:

  • People they’ve never met
  • Places they’ve never been
  • Things they’ve never experienced

Let me give you another example: I’ve spoken to many people that are closed minded and dismissive towards psychedelics like Ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, Magic Mushrooms etc. without ever having tried them.

Yet this doesn’t stop them from opening their mouths and acting as if they were an authority or an expert on the subject, even though they have no prior knowledge or experience with the topic, and it’s completely obvious that they don’t have the slightest clue what the fuck they’re talking about.

Instead of being intellectually honest enough to say “I don’t know”, or “I’m not sure”, whenever an unfamiliar topic comes up in conversation, too many people start confidently talking out of their asses about things they know nothing about.

Or even worse: they state their ill-informed opinions as if they were facts, and then they expect you to agree with them.

This behavior is not only intellectually dishonest, it is intellectually lazy and stupid, and unfortunately it is far too common.

Listening to an inexperienced and uneducated know-it-all, trying to act like an expert on a subject they know nothing about, is both embarrassing and painful to listen to. It’s like listening to a virgin trying to educate a porn star about sex.

Do yourself and everyone else a favor: The next time you hear someone talk about something you’re unfamiliar with or don’t understand e.g. cognitive biases or cognitive dissonance, instead of being closed-minded and dismissing it as ‘irrelevant’ or ‘unimportant’ when you don’t even know what it is, or even worse, talking out of your ass and acting as if you were an authority or an expert on the subject, why not take the time to ask questions, get educated, and learn something new?

Maybe it’s important. Maybe it’s not. But don’t just dismiss it until you know what it is.

You never know: it might be something incredible and life changing.

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you know nothing about.” – Sadhguru

“To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent.” – Mortimer J. Adler

39. Don’t assume you are smarter than the stranger you’re speaking with

“The stupid person thinks that he is as smart or smarter than, a smart person. And therein lies his stupidity.” – Chris Langan “The smartest man in America”, IQ 210

One of the dumbest things I see ‘smart’ (and stupid) people do, is arrogantly assuming they’re smarter than the stranger they’re speaking with.

This is incredibly arrogant – and it is stupid.

When you first meet someone, you don’t know anything about them, and you certainly don’t know what they know, so don’t be too quick to assume intellectual superiority, or that you know more, or that you know best, because the exact opposite might be true.

I think this is good advice for whenever you meet someone new:

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

In other words: first ask questions to find out who they are, and what they know, before saying what you know.

Even if you happen to be an expert on the subject in question, and someone is asking you lots of questions and is listening intently to your answers, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily clueless or ignorant on the subject matter.

Sometimes smart people like to ask questions to test you, to see if you really know what you’re talking about, or to see if you’re full of crap.

Or maybe they just want to get an understanding of your perspective and the way you think about things.

A lot of highly intelligent people are also introverted and prefer to listen more than they talk, because they know that they learn a lot more by listening than they do by speaking.

“Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” – Richard Branson

This also applies to communication over the net. If you don’t know anything about the stranger you’re speaking with face to face, you know even less about the stranger you’re interacting with over email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.

I’m constantly amazed at how aggressive and condescending people are on Reddit, Twitter, YouTube etc. to people they’ve never met and know nothing about, and how quick they are to assume intellectual superiority, just because the other person has a belief/opinion/perspective (political especially) they disagree with.

Instead of asking questions and seeking to understand what evidence/logic/reasoning the other person has for their beliefs, they’re quick to attack and label them, or they act like it must be their job to ‘educate’ and ‘enlighten’ them, as if they were more automatically more intelligent and knowledgeable on the subject matter, and knew something the other person didn’t.

The thought never seems to have crossed their mind that maybe the person they’re speaking to is even more educated and enlightened on the subject matter than they are, and knows a lot more about the topic than they do.

In my experience: Liberals are far too quick to assume intellectual (and moral) superiority over conservatives, and atheists are far too quick to assume intellectual superiority over theists. I think a little intellectually humility from both sides would go a long way.

And let’s say you ARE smarter than the person you’re speaking with…

So what?

Remember this:


Even if you know more about the subject in question, why not ask questions to find out what they know that you don’t?

Ask yourself: What can I learn?

Not: How can I educate this person? Or how I can prove my point? Or what can I be right about?

Listen to this great advice from the CEO of Microsoft:

“Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.” – Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft  

Only an idiot thinks they have nothing to learn from a child, or from someone younger, less educated, experienced, or intelligent.

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” – Bruce Lee

One final thought: it’s common for young people to assume they’re smarter than older people, and for children to assume they’re smarter than their parents. So often as children we assume our parents know nothing.

Whilst I’ll be the first to admit that children definitely ARE smarter than their parents (and other adults) in many ways, it often isn’t until we get older that we realize that our parents weren’t as dumb and clueless as we once thought they were.

This hilarious quote sums it up brilliantly:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

38. Don’t confuse your perspective with objective reality

“Is,” “is,” “is”—the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don’t know what anything “is”, I only know how it seems to me at this moment.” – Robert Anton Wilson

Too many people seem to be under the following two illusions:

  • They perceive objective reality as it is (without distortion or filter)
  • The way they perceive reality is the only ‘right’ way to perceive it

Perception vs reality

“Naïve realism is the human tendency to believe that we see reality as it really is – objectively and without bias; that the facts are plain for all to see; that rational people will agree with us; and that those who don’t are either uninformed, lazy, irrational, or biased.” – Wikipedia 

If you want to get smarter you need to realize the following:

You don’t perceive objective reality or anything like it

Instead of perceiving reality as it is, we each experience and perceive a heavily edited version of reality and our minds delete/distort/generalize almost everything we experience.

We have to. There are simply too many different things going on at any one time for us to consciously take in so we filter almost everything out.

In fact, we’re pretty much deaf, dumb, blind, and ignorant to 99.99% to everything.

Instead of perceiving objective reality, we mostly perceive the thoughts in our head.

Everyone experiences and perceives reality differently

An ant perceives reality differently than a mosquito.

An eagle perceives reality differently than an octopus.

A man perceives reality differently than a woman.

Which perspective is the ‘right’ one? None of course. They’re all equally valid. But the way most people talk and act, it’s as if their perspective is the only ‘correct’, ‘right’, or ‘true’ one, and all other perspectives are simply ‘wrong’!

There are an infinite number of ways to perceive anything, each one no more ‘correct’, ‘right’, or ‘true’, than any other, and not only does everyone experience and perceive reality differently, but everyone experiences and perceives the exact same events/people/places/situations differently.

For example: Let’s say we both go to New York.

We will have completely different perspectives on New York depending on:

  • Who we are
  • When we go
  • Where we stay
  • What we do
  • What we eat
  • What we wear
  • The weather
  • Who we travel with
  • The people we meet
  • How people treat us
  • A million other things

Even if we both fly to New York on the same day, and stay in identical rooms in the same hotel, and visit all of the same attractions just 5 minutes apart, our experiences and perspectives that day will be completely different depending on:

  • Who we are
  • Who we travel with
  • Where we stand
  • What we see
  • What we focus on
  • What we wear
  • What we eat
  • Who we meet
  • Our thoughts/emotions
  • A million other things

In fact, even if thousands of people all experience the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same place e.g. a concert, a protest, a sporting event, September 11 2001 etc. there will be as many different experiences and perspectives of the event as there are people who experience it.

That’s not the only reason you shouldn’t confuse your perspective with objective reality however…

Reality is often independent of our thoughts/feelings/perceptions about it

Although everyone experiences and perceives reality differently, that doesn’t mean there are different realities, or that there is such a thing as “my reality” or “your reality”.

There is only one reality and our perceptions often have nothing to do with it.

For example: In our dreams we perceive people/places/events that don’t exist and never happened, whereas right now you don’t perceive other cities/countries/planets etc. and they do exist.

Your perspective is constantly changing and evolving

We also know that our perceptions don’t equal reality because they change and evolve along with our experience and knowledge. e.g. Do you perceive the world differently now than you did in childhood?

Of course you do.

Your perspective can easily be altered/changed/distorted

Not only do our perspectives on reality constantly change and evolve with new experiences and information, the way you see the world and other people can easily be affected and distorted by:

  • Alcohol/Drugs/Food
  • Your beliefs/biases/prejudices
  • Your childhood experiences and the way you were raised and taught to think
  • Your emotions/intuition/mood
  • Fake news/the media/social media
  • How you interpret an event/the meaning you assign to an event
  • The weather

Appearances can be deceiving

Appearances can be deceiving – things aren’t always what they seem.

People can be especially deceptive, there are so many people who wear masks and pretend to be someone they’re not in order to fit in. It’s also important to note that most people act differently under different circumstances and around different people.

Remember this the next time you meet someone and they seem like an asshole or a bitch, because they might simply be having a bad day, or going through an incredibly painful or stressful time in their lives.

This goes the other way too: You might meet someone who seems like the nicest, sweetest, guy/girl in the world – but that doesn’t mean that they are what they seem. Some people are sweet talkers and will tell you what you want to hear in order to get you to do what they want.

Whilst I don’t advise denying the obvious and turning a blind eye to reality (if someone seems like an asshole or a bitch or a nice guy/girl they probably are), I’m just saying that people/situations/things aren’t always what they seem.

I agree with this quote 99% of the time:

“When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou 

But there can be exceptions to the rule…

Your perspective isn’t the ‘correct’ or the ‘right’ one – or the only one

Finally, because:

  1. You don’t perceive objective reality – or anything like it
  2. Your perspective isn’t the only ‘right’ way to perceive reality

Don’t be too sure of yourself, and don’t be too quick to dismiss other people’s perspectives as ‘wrong’ (unless you’re talking about something with a definite answer like mathematics), because if you do it’s a sure sign that you’ve fallen into the trap of confusing your perspective for objective reality, or thinking that your perspective is the only ‘correct’, ‘right’, or ‘true’ way to see things.

You should always keep an open mind to other people’s perspectives, and never be too sure of your own, because other people know things you don’t, and have experienced things you haven’t, and those experiences have given them knowledge and a unique perspective that you don’t have.

Remember: Seek first to understand (the other person’s perspective), before being understood.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Harper Lee

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” – Henry Ford

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell and broke into pieces. Everyone took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” – Rumi

37. Don’t confuse feelings with facts

“Facts don’t care about your feelings.” – Ben Shapiro

One of the biggest mistakes I often see people making – especially women – is confusing feelings with facts I.e. assuming that just because you feel a certain way about someone or something, that your feelings must indicate the truth of that person/situation/thing.

I’ll be the first one to tell you to listen to your gut feelings and intuition, I do it all the time, but it’s important to realize that your emotions and feelings aren’t the ultimate guide to reality, nor do they necessarily reflect the reality of the person/situation/thing you have feelings about.

Let me prove this to you logically:

We’ve all had arguments with people who felt absolutely 100% certain they were right, when they were clearly wrong. e.g. Lots of people feel absolutely certain that the earth is flat. But whether or not they feel certain about it, has nothing to do as to whether or not it IS flat.

Another example: When you have a nightmare you experience feelings of fear and terror, when in reality you’re in no danger whatsoever. Your emotions and feelings don’t reflect reality, they’re simply physical reactions to the mental movies your mind is hallucinating in that moment.

Another example: People also have all kinds of irrational fears and phobias that have nothing to do with reality e.g. bathing, clowns, falling asleep etc.

Another example: You might believe a false rumor about someone that leads you to believe that they’re a rapist or a serial killer – when in reality they might be completely harmless.

However, if you were to believe the rumor, you would probably feel fearful – if not terrified – if they were to approach you, even though there is really nothing to fear.

Finally, we know that feelings don’t equal facts because everyone feels differently about the exact same things.

For example: If we expose 1, 000 different people to the exact same music/movie/TV show etc. they will have a 1, 000 different emotions about it. Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. Some people won’t feel anything about it one way or another.

But if feelings equaled facts than everyone would feel the exact same way about everything – which obviously isn’t the case.

So if your emotions/feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality – what do they reflect?

Your emotions are simply a reflection of your thinking

If you think angry thoughts – you will feel angry.

If you think happy thoughts – you will feel happy.

If you think sad thoughts – you will feel sad.

If you think differently – you will feel differently.

Again: Your emotions and feelings don’t necessarily reflect the reality of the person/situation/thing you have feelings about – only your thoughts about them.

Realizing that feelings don’t equal facts, it’s important to make a conscious decision not to allow yourself to be controlled or ruled by your emotions, nor to let them dictate your decisions, actions and habits.

It’s also important not to let anyone else manipulate you emotionally (parents, family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, advertisers, Hollywood, the media etc.) or trigger you into saying or doing something stupid.

Learn to feel your feelings without being overwhelmed or controlled by them. Become an interested observer, and remember: “just because I feel this way – that doesn’t mean that it IS that way”.

Make your decisions based on facts – not feelings, logically – not emotionally.

TBH: This is a lot harder than it sounds. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult. Most people are completely ruled by their emotions and are not only under the illusion that feelings equal facts, but even worse, that their feelings are even more important than the facts.

36. Don’t believe every thought that passes through your head

“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.” – Allan Lokos

Let’s quickly recap the last 2 points:

You don’t perceive reality objectively as it is, nor is your perspective the only ‘right’ way to perceive reality (Appearances can be deceiving – just because something seems a certain way – that doesn’t mean that it IS that way)

Your emotions/feelings don’t necessarily reflect the reality of the person/situation/thing you have feelings about – only your thoughts about them (Just because you feel a certain way about someone or something – that doesn’t mean that it IS that way)

Now I’m going to take it one step further:

Not only is your perspective and your emotions not the ultimate guide to reality – neither are your thoughts.

Most people are so incredibly identified with their minds however, that they believe and act as if every thought that passes through their heads were an irrefutable fact.

But thoughts aren’t facts. They’re just thoughts. Quickly come and quickly gone.

In fact, you don’t even think them, nor do you have any say at all as to what you will think. Thoughts just appear randomly and spontaneously in your mind without your permission.

Even if right now you have the thought: “I disagree”, or “I can think whatever I want to think”, or “this guy is full of shit” – where did that thought come from? Didn’t it just appear in your mind spontaneously without warning from out of nowhere? Yes it did. Then you identified with it and said “I think”.

If you haven’t spent a lot of time meditating and watching your mind, you’re probably don’t believe me.

You’re probably still under the illusion that you’re in control of your mind, that you’re the one who is consciously choosing to think each thought, and that you can think whatever you want to think (I.e. you can just choose to “think positively” instead of negatively etc.)

But if that’s true and you’re really in control of the thinking process:

  • Why don’t you only think about what you want to think about?
  • Why don’t you only think happy and positive thoughts – instead of evil and negative thoughts?
  • Why is it the less you want to think about something the more often you do?
  • Why do you often remember painful memories so much more than pleasant ones?
  • Why do most of your best ideas often come to you when you’re thinking about something else?
  • Why do you often have random thoughts from something that happened 10-15 years ago, instead of something useful and relevant to the current topic of conversation?
  • Why does your mind often wander instead of staying focused on the task at hand?
  • Why did you just have that thought instead of another thought?
  • What will your next thought will be?
  • Can you choose to turn your mind off for a day and have no thoughts at all?

You can’t answer any of these questions because the truth is:

  • You’re NOT in charge of the thinking process
  • You cannot control what you think about any more than you can control what you dream about, or what kinds of people you’re attracted to
  • You cannot control your mind – nor can you stop it – thoughts just appear randomly and spontaneously in your mind without your permission

In fact, you don’t know anything about the mind. You don’t know what the mind is, what thought is (no one does), where your thoughts come from, what your next thought will be, why you get one thought instead of another, or anything else.

Sadhguru the Indian enlightened mystic gives a good talk on this. Watch this:

Sadhguru is right: The content of your mind is not your choice.

99.99% of what you think is simply what you’ve been conditioned to think by advertisers, authors, bloggers/podcasts/vloggers, celebrities, Hollywood, the media, politicians, religion, school, social media, your family, friends, workmates, and the rest of society.

So what do you think? Who cares what you think. They’re not even ‘your’ thoughts.

If they were ‘your’ thoughts, they would be original to you, but they’re not.

Most people have never had an original thought in their entire lives.

“We seldom realize that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” – Alan Watts

If you have any doubt at all that what I’m saying is true, you can test it and see for yourself by watching your thoughts come and go in meditation.

When you start watching your mind in meditation you’ll very quickly discover:

  • You are NOT thinking ‘your’ thoughts – they simply appear in your consciousness without your permission, whether you like it or not, and you have absolutely no say as to what you will think, or as to what kinds of thoughts will pop into your head (angry, happy, sad, funny, sexual, violent, random etc) also note that often the less you want to think about something the more you do
  • How busy your mind is (the average person thinks 50, 000+ thoughts per day)
  • How much of your thinking is negative and/or random
  • How much of your thinking is complete bullshit and has nothing to do with reality

Eventually when you watch your mind for long enough in meditation, you’ll start to get some space and separation from it, and you’ll start to experience it as something foreign and apart from you.

It’ll be like listening to the voice of a stranger – someone you don’t even recognize. Or watching a movie that you know you’re not producing.

Thoughts will still be perceived by you – but because you’ll clearly see that they’re not being produced by you, you won’t identify with them as much, nor will you take them so seriously.

I’ll be speaking more about meditation, mindfulness, and psychedelics later in this series (all great ways to get some space from the mind), but for now if you would like to get some sense of space and separation from your mind, simply take these steps:

  • Sit in a cross legged position and close your eyes
  • Start watching your thoughts appear as an interested observer, as if you were watching a movie, as if you were really curious to see what was going to happen next
  • Don’t believe or disbelieve anything you see – just watch and observe
  • Don’t judge or label anything you see – just watch and observe
  • If you think happy and positive thoughts – that’s OK
  • If you think evil and negative thoughts – that’s OK
  • If you think about fucking, dying, killing, shitting – whatever – it’s OK
  • Just watch your mind and see your thoughts come and go and see for yourself that you’re not in charge of the thinking process, it’s just happening, and you have no control over it – your only choice is to believe and identify with ‘your’ thoughts or not

Finally, because thoughts aren’t facts (they’re just thoughts), stop taking them so damn seriously, and stop believing every thought that passes through your head as if it were a divine revelation from God.

Remember: Most of what you think isn’t true (whether you choose to believe it or not), and most of what you imagine and worry about doesn’t happen.

But if your thoughts were always true, and your mind was always right, then you would always be right about everything, which obviously isn’t the case.

Finally consider this:

The average person has 50, 000+ thoughts per day.

Do you think you have 50, 000+ true thoughts per day?

Of course not.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle 


This is part 3 of a 10 part series:

How to get smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies

In this article we looked at being open-minded and receptive towards things we didn’t understand, not assuming we’re smarter than the stranger we’re speaking with, and not believing that our perspective, feelings, or thoughts necessarily equal reality.

Let’s do a quick recap of this weeks points:

40. Don’t dismiss things you don’t understand

39. Don’t assume you’re smarter than the stranger you’re speaking with

38. Don’t confuse your perspective for objective reality

37. Don’t confuse feelings with facts

36. Don’t believe every thought that passes through your head

If you liked this article please subscribe to my mailing list below and I’ll email you my latest articles whenever they’re released. NO SPAM EVER.

If you would like to read the other parts in this series here they are:

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – part 1

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 2

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 4

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 5

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 6

Or if you would like to read my other articles: Life Lessons All Articles


Crowd protest image credit: rob zs / Shutterstock.com