Planet Money Podcast: What causes what?

Knowledge Question:  What are the limitations of our abilities to reason?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why incompetent people think they’re amazing

Knowledge Questions: To what extent are we aware of our own knowledge? How does the possession of knowledge affect the knower?


The irony of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is that, Professor Dunning notes, “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.”

“The Rationalist Delusion” Limitations of reason in searching for truth

Knowledge Questions: What is the relationship between reason and intuition? Do we use reason or intuition more when determining truth?

The following are passages from Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason. We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. The French cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber recently reviewed the vast research literature on motivated reasoning (in social psychology) and on the biases and errors of reasoning (in cognitive psychology). They concluded that most of the bizarre and depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people…

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.

This link is to the larger passage from the book.


We spent two hours debating what it means to say that a proposition is (or seems to be) “true.” This is a not trivial problem in philosophy. But the place at which Peterson and I got stuck was a strange one. He seemed to be claiming that any belief system compatible with our survival must be true, and any that gets us killed must be false.

Deductive vs Inductive Reasoning: Make Smarter Arguments, Better Decisions, and Stronger Conclusions

The essence of reasoning is a search for truth. Yet truth isn’t always as simple as we’d like to believe it is.

For as far back as we can imagine, philosophers have debated whether absolute truth exists. Although we’re still waiting for an answer, this doesn’t have to stop us from improving how we think by understanding a little more.

In general, we can consider something to be true if the available evidence seems to verify it. The more evidence we have, the stronger our conclusion can be.