127. Critical Thinking: Linguistic Tricks Con-Artists Use To Manipulate You

08 important lessons from this lecture:

00:12:55 Coldreading is “a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, mediums and illusionists to imply that he or she knows much more about a person than the mentalist, fortune-teller, medium and illusionist actually does.” Coldreading statements come in four basic forms:

  1. Positive aspects about the person. People are generally reluctant to accept all positive comments about them because it’s ‘too good to be true,’ or not completely valid.
  2. Negative aspects about the person. People generally accept negative comments about them.
  3. Aspects so general that they apply to everyone
  4. Rather specific aspectics about the person

00:20:11 An important element in coldreading is the Forer Effect, or the Barnum Effect, which is “the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.” What makes these statements so powerful is that they prey “on the eagerness of people to fill in details and make connections between what is said and some aspect of their own lives (often searching their entire life’s history to find some connection, or reinterpreting statements in a number of different possible ways so as to make it apply to themselves).”

Another characteristic of coldreading is subjective validation: the people receiving the coldreading tends to remember the correct information about them and forget the mistakes, or wrong information.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Here is an excellent example of the Barnum Effect:

Here is Derren Brown’s website.]

00:21:14 Althought it did exist, in my (Ray Hyman’s) research, I could not find any use of the term coldreading as it pertains to fortune telling before 1944. Coldreading originally referred to when an actor reads a script while trying out for a part in a play.

The first person to officially use ‘coldreading’ in its present form was William Gresham in his 1946 book Nightmare Alley, and then again in his 1953 book Monster Midway.

00:24:13 One of the characteristics of university professors and other smart people is that they tend to be immunized from the outside world, so they lack a certain amount of street smarts and can be more easily taken in by things.

00:36:11 During palm readings, people will actually unconsciously move their hands towards or away from the palm reader according to the accuracy of the palm reader’s statements. This is a great, covert way for the palm reader to gauge their statements where everyone’s happy: You get your ‘authentic fortune telling,’ and the coldreader gets your money.

00:37:10 After having conducted hundreds of palm readings, I (Ray Hyman) eventually began telling people the exact opposite of what the all the palm reading interpretation books were stating. The result, people were astounded that my readings were so much more insightful and spot on than all of the other fortune tellers that person had gone to, who had all been saying the same things. The moral was that it doesn’t really matter.

00:37:27 Coldreading has even found it’s place in established and credible institutions with evaluations such as the Rorchach test, a psychological test in which “subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both.”

Even today many personality tests which have absolutely no validity are used by companies to make hiring decisions, by dating websites to match singles, etc.

00:41:47 The majority of coldreaders consciously know that what they are doing is manipulative coldreading. The remaining percentage are referred to as shut eyes: “a performer who becomes so adept at the illusion of mind reading that the performer comes to believe that he or she actually possesses psychic powers.

Why? Because with each successful reading you grow more confident in your abilities as a coldreader and a person capable of manipulating the person in front of you; and this confidence eminates from you and is obvious to the person being coldread, thus further ensuring that the person being coldread will agree with your fortune telling.

Shut eye or not, by simply claiming to be a coldreader and confidently providing a coldreading, you are guaranteed at least some level of success. However if you, the coldreader, want to set yourself over and above the typical shut eye, apply the following most important elements of a coldreading, then you will have a great advantage over a ‘shut eye’ coldreader:

  1. By letting the person know that he or she is entering into your (the coldreader’s) special world.
  2. That while he or she is unsure of what the rules are, that you know what the rules are. And further that the person believes that you competently know what the rules are.
  3. That you are a skilled, seasoned, professional fortune teller who has done this a hundred times before.
  4. Have ways of ensuring that in the event of a misreading, or incorrect information, that that incorrect information is the result of the person being coldread, and not any fault of yours.
  5. Understanding that the person you are coldreading actually wants you to succeed and provide them with an accurate fortune telling.

Put all these elements together, and you have a coldreading in which the coldreader has all the probabilities in his/her favor coming out on top, regardless of how incompetent the coldreader is.

The problem with coldreading is that the whole allure of having your fortune read is believing it is possible. Once a coldreader attaches a disclaimer statement explaining his techniqures are nothing more than a performance artist gimmick, the whole allure is taken away. So the question becomes at what point should a coldreader admit he or she is just a performance artist?

What I (Ray Hyman), as a professional coldreader, did to simultaneously address this dilemma and to diffuse the audience’s basis for challenging my legitimacy was to begin each fortune telling seance with what is called an ‘invited inference’- “inviting onlookers to draw their own inferences aout the source of the apparent feats of mind reading. Most of them concluded I was truly psychic.” The seemingly innocent introduction that “I make no claims about the reading I am about to give. I have studied very hard for this and I hope that you enjoy it, but I make no claims.” Ray Hyman, wikipedia

This ultimately comes down to a magician intentionally claiming before he attempts a magic trick that “In my hands I have an ordinary deck of cards,” and a talented magician inferencing that the cards are just another normal deck of cards by simply shuffling them in his/hands to inference that are a normal deck of cards.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Absolutely the most comprehensive book on coldreading I have read so far is The Full Facts Book of Coldreading by Ian Rowland]

120. Critical Thinking: How & When To Override The Autonomous Mind

04 important lessons from this lecture:

00:00:39 Information pollution in the internet age is that, with freedom of speech combined with the ability to instantly publish anything you want immediately and without verification, as information accumulates in any field of study, how can you survive an environment with so much contaminated information?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In his extremely informative talk Copy, Cut, Paste: How Eveything Is A Copy From A Copy From A Copy…, Andy Baio details out how the internet’s instant publishing is rubbing up against the copyright infringement world and is, sometimes unjustly, ruining the lives and future of entrepreneurs.]

You overcome cognitive biases, mind gaps, contaminated information and heuristics by applying hypothetical thinking.

High-quality information in a particular subject tends to grow in a linear fashion, while the total amount of information on that same particular subject tends to grow as a cube, meaning as more and more information accumulates on that particular subject, it becomes harder and harder to rummage through the useless, polluted information in order to locate the high-quality information because it’s unavoidably mixed in with crap. This will only get worse.

Recall from the lecture Keys To Critical Thinking & Thinking About Dubious Claims where “regardless of how good your critical thinking framework is; garbage in is garbage out,” if we are constantly being innundated with bad information, how can you protect yourself by both finding and identifying the good information from the contaminated?

The illusion of truth principle argues that just merely being exposure to conaminated information and statements, such as ‘Global warming is a hoax,’ even though you don’t believe this, it does increase your belief that it is so, or at least the possibility that the good information may in fact actually be contaminated information.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the origins of global warming, refer to the mini-documentary The Story Of Stuff: How Our Modern Markets Economy Is  Destroying Our Planet by Annie Leonard.]

This is because of the way your memory works: memory doesn’t work like a list of facts and dates – it’s a network of information. And things stimulated in a certain network explode and have a ripple effect on other related networks in your brain’s associations. So it turns out that simple repetition is strong enough to cast doubt on even the most certain of facts.

Fox News, for example, spends so much more time demonizing their ‘enemies’ rather than promoting their own ideals and policies – mud slinging and negative campaigning – that it’s no wonder that anyone who spends half ot their day listening to them will be persuaded to believe what they say. This is the danger of the illusion of truth and mere repetition.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more interesting information on how advertising creatives use the idea of exploding networks and the ripple effect in their brain to create advertising campaigns, browse through my interviews with several notable creative directors such as Rémi Noel, Eric Holden, Steven BrinleeRory Sutherland, Andrei Robu and Gregory Ferembach.

00:06:28 The principle of charity is the idea that when you are attacking a claim or an opponent, etc., don’t attack your opponent’s argument at it’s worst; attack his or her argument at it’s best. Aim to reformulate your opponent’s claim in the strongest way possible before you to address it, attack it, or destroy it: Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt by reframing his or her argument in the best, most logical and correct-possible light before addressing it. Doing this not only increases the credibility of your reputation for objectiveness and fairness, it also take away the from the strength of any rebuttle your opponent may have to your logical argument.

If you’re going to criticize; be fair. Don’t attack a person’s argument at it’s worst; reformulate it in the best, most strongest way possible and then address it.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how to handle opponents and deal with opposition, read the books:

00:16:30 Recall in the lecture Perceptual & Cognitive Biases – Fast & Slow Thinking, Karl Popper pointed out that one of the biggest weaknesses of all of us is that we always focus on what did happen and not on what didn’t happen; sometimes it’s what didn’t happen that is the most important part to think about. Meaning, just because your prediction came true doesn’t really show you much until you understand what the alternatives would have been.

00:18:51 Karl Popper’s framework for systematic analysis summed up in 6 questions are:

  1. What is the issue or question?
  2. What is the claim? [phrased in conditional form*]
  3. What reasons are offered to support the claim?
  4. How strong is the support?
  5. What would be adequate support?
  6. What reasons might create (false) beliefs in the claim?

The conditional format:

T: If (H & IC & AC), then (P)


  • T: theory (a description of a hypothetical system)
  • H: hypothesis, the claim that the theory (T) is true
  • IC: initial conditions for evaluating the claim
  • AC: auxiliary conditions that must hold true for the claimed outcome to occur
  • P: Predicted outcome given that the hypothesis is true and the initial and auxiliary conditions are met

Applying the above conditional format to his original example in his lecture on Keys To Critical Thinking & Thinking About Dubious Claims question:

Can a key be bent without physical force by an unknown psychic power? 

  • T: metal can be bent by unknown psychic powers
  • H: This theory (T) is true of some individuals
  • IC: the unbent key
  • AC: the alleged psychic stokes the unbent key and wants the key to bend.  The physicial stroking is unsufficient to bend the key by psychic force, however the psychic power is enough.
  • P: The key will be bent
  • Proof offered to support the claim for (T): A bent key was displayed to the observers.
  • Ideal, ‘Adequate’ Proof: Had there been clear evidence that the key had not been bent before the demonstration, and could not have been bent by physical force during the demonstration? 
  • ‘Inadequate’ Support: Had it been possible for the ‘psychic’ to bend it during that time while the marked, unbent key was in his possession? The bent key had been marked beforehand to preclude switching. However the key had been out of sight and in the demonstrator’s possession before it was apparently bent. This depends on knowing about the principle of leverage and realizing that the demonstrator had another key in his hand at the same time he also had possession of the key that had been known to be bent. Observers were asked to touch the key to confirm that key was a valid key, and to touch the key in a way which would not physically bend the key, which would have disqualifying the marked, unbent key from being used as proof during the demonstration.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Three very good books I have personally read and would highly recommend are:

  1. Critical Thinking: A beginner’s guide by Sharon M. Kaye
  2. Do They Think You’re Stupid: 100 ways of spotting spin & nonsense from the media, pundits & politicans by julian Baggini
  3. The Full Facts Book of Coldreading by Ian Rowland]

109. Critical Thinking: ESP, Psychic Abilities and The Vividness Problem

03 important takeaways from this lecture:

00:04:30 Parapsychology 

is “a pseudoscience concerned with the investigation of paranormal and psychic phenomena. Parapsychologists study telepathy, precognition,clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences,reincarnation, apparitional experiences, and other paranormal claims.”

 An important distinction, however, must be made between strength of proof and strength of belief.

The Psychology Of The Psychic by David F. Marks includes three chapters discussing the phenomenon of remote-viewing: the ability to project to another person’s location and see what that person is seeing.


The fallacy of personal validation involves asking the person whom the psychic is reading to judge for him or herself whether or not the psychic’s insight into that person’s life is accurate or not. This form of validation is so subjective and malleable using linguistics that it is among the least reliable forms of validation because subjective validation, or the personal validation effect, is “a cognitive bias by which a person will consider a statement or another piece of information to be correct if it has any personal meaning or significance to them.”  Meaning, humans have a tendency to overlook things that don’t coincide with their belief and notice things that do coincide with their belief/perception.

Often times scientific journals publish articles releasing the results of scientific studies, and refuse to publish replications – articles which test and may disprove the validity of the originally published article.

00:20:00-00:49:47 Several examples from history.

00:49:54 The vividness problem is the effect that one piece of information, correct or incorrect, can have be enough to determine the entire outcome of a decision simply because that piece of information is so vivid.

For example, you conduct hours of market research and consumer reports and are strongly considering buying a Ford Explorer, and when a trusted friend advises you against purchasing a Ford Explorer “because a friend of theirs once bought one and it turned out to be a complete lemon,” this vivid, personal piece of information is enough to override hundreds of statistics and dissuade you from buying the vehicle.

105. Critical Thinking: Perceptual & Cognitive Biases – Fast & Slow Thinking

09 important takeaways from this lecture:

00:00:44 Psychologists have defined a theory called the dual process theory, labeling two basic systems of thinking: 

  • System 1 – the unconscious – which is the autonomous, primitive and labour-intensive part of our animalistic brains that developed early in our evolutionary. Most of what we do are automatically triggered by things in our environment. Some of our behavior under this system are instinctive, while other behaviors- such as driving a car- require practice until they become second nature.
  • System 2 – the conscious – the slower, more indepth thinking process developed much later in human evolution to override system 1 and allow us to take the time to stop and think about certain things. This system can often times override system 1 thinking, allowing us to prevent ourselves from doing stupid things.

00:02:03 Confabulation is a controversial theory that most of what humans do is done automatically and without thought or reason, and it is the human who creates a story about why he or she did what they did. With lying, the person intends to deceive and mislead; with confabulation, the person presents incorrect memories and alterations for which they are certain are the truth.

Confabulation is controversial because it insinuates lack of free will.

00:07:43 Psychology makes a big deal about mindfulness and mindlessness. Thing is, as your system 1 is so labor-intensive and can only focus on one thing at a time, it’s impossible to think about everything; you have to know how to properly allocate your resources.


A person could have a ton of information and facts in their head, but not know how to use and apply that information properly , therefore we must separate rationality from intelligence.

00:13:00 Cognitive errors can fall under one of three major types:


Cognitive miserliness – the human mind is so complicated and hard to use that people have a tendancy to rely too heavily on your unconscious, system 1 processing.

00:24:30 One of the biggest weaknesses of all of us is that we always focus on what does happen and and not on what didn’t happen; sometimes it’s what didn’t happen that is the most important part to think about.

Meaning, just because our prediction came true doesn’t really show us much until we understand what the alternatives would have been.

00:33:25 When people read, they sort through two types of words:

  1. Function words are the frequently used words that connect content words to form full sentences. With these, the human eye naturally glazes over them to get to the content words.
  2. Content words – the important words that are the reason you’re reading the text in the first place; i.e. nouns and verbs.

00:34:40 People show greater rememberance for the beginning of a text (the primacy effect) and and for the end of a text (the recency effect).  

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the primacy effect, watch the lecture How To Start A Startup: Introducing Yourself So Investors Want To Invest.]

00:36:20 Simultaneous-Contrast is the fact that things appear darker when contrasted against an opposite, lighter thing.

Belief perserverence, a form of confirmation bias,  is the idea that once you’ve created a belief, it’s almost impossible to undo it.

For example, a group of sociologists from Stanford University conducted an experiment where they gave people a bundle of real and fabricated suicide letters to a person and asked that person to sort the real suicide letters from the fake suicide letters. In reality 100% of the suicide letters were fake. 

Those participants were then placed into two groups, those who were told that they ‘got 80% correct,’ and those who were told that they ‘got 20% correct.’ The sociologists then asked those people to explain how they got such a high/low percentage correct. Those participants then went on to justify their % correct through different beliefs as to why: “I’ve always been a sensitive person,” or “I’ve never been really good at connecting with people,” etc.

After the testing the individuals were then told that they were tricked, and that in fact 100% of the suicide notes were fake. Weeks later those same participants were asked to return to perform the same experiment, and despite knowing that the initial test and % correct were wrong, they still maintained their initial belief and justification.

The takeaway, once you’ve organized your life around a certain belief, your memory takes over and the next time you’re confronted with this situation, or a similar-enough situation, the initial justifications that form the foundation of your belief are what come to your mind, regardless of whether they are accurate or not. Once we have been fooled into believing one thing, it can be very hard to change your perspective and get you out of this belief. This is the power of  belief perserverence.