135. Critical Thinking: How To Convince People You Know Them Very, Very Intimately

06 important lessons from this lecture:

00:01:26 In terms of the psychology of deception, coldreading – or the psychic reading – represents a good prototype that contains every explanation about why people believe what they believe can create a reality which over-rides anything else. 

It’s not the coldreader that makes fortune telling sessions so successful, it is the people who are having their future being told to them that make it so successful; it is them who are putting the meaning into the words.

00:09:54 In my (Ray Hyman’s) estimation, as much as 97% of psychic readers actually believe they have a powerful gift of fortune telling.

00:11:47 The late-Doris Collins, one of Britain’s most famous medium was brought over from England to the United States to give psychic readings. One of the things she does is to stand up in front of a crowd and “get readings for a person named ‘Insert Name Here.’” 

While her readings were spot-on in England, her readings in the United States were essentially a failure; the problem being that the most common names in England (the names that stand the greatest probability of having at least one person in the crowd with that name) weren’t the same common names in the United States. So when she called someone’s name, for example ‘…someone name’d Abbott,’ there was nobody in that crowd with that name.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Babycentre.co.uk publishes a list of the most common baby names in England. For example, the top male baby names in 2013 were: Oliver, Jack, Charlie, Harry, and Oscar.]

00:17:50 Most humans function in the same way, they pick the parts of beliefs that they like, and look for proof that justifies their belief. This is a cognitive bias called a confirmation bias – the ‘tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.’ Further, the backfire effect is a polarization of opinion with humans that ‘when given evidence against their beliefs, can reject the evidence and actually strengthen their initial beliefs.’ 

But, as one lady who ‘received a reading’ from a deceased loved one was then learned that the reading wasn’t real reasoned, “All that matters is that [people who are grieving and seeking closure] have found some comfort…. if they are walking away from [a psychic reader] comforted and happy, and they can go on living their lives, what is the skepticism? What could he possbly be doing that skeptics can find fault with psychic reading?”

Step 1: Do a systematic scan of the person

00:35:23 In coldreading, a systematic scan is a checklist of things to observe about a person which, to the trained eye, will give you multiple clues about the person. 

The following are things to look at. If at each step something about the person pops into your mind, remember it. If nothing comes to you, then move on to the next point:

  1. Hair: is it well-kept or disheveled? Is it making a statement? Is it its natural color?
  2. Face: Is there any acne or scars? Facial hair? Is there any makeup? If so, is there more makeup than required for the situation? Is it too puffy or overweight?
  3. Upper-body: Do they have good posture or are they slumping? Relaxed or tense? Are they overweight or underweight? Are they physically fit, suggesting someone athletic or of average build?
  4. Clothing: Is it casual or professional? Clean and orderly or disorganized and ‘thrown on?’ Is it making a statment? Are there any logos and brand markers?
  5. Legs: What is the cut, color and fabric of the pants?
  6. Shoes: Do the shoes match the socks? Do they have socks? Are the shoes casual or professional? Do they clash with the outfit? 
  7. Jewelry: Are they married? How expensive is it? Are there indentations on the fingers suggesting that a ring has been recently removed? Was the removed ring intentional (for example a married man wanting to appear single)? 
  8. Hands & fingernails: Are they taken care of or bitten? Are they long or short? Is there any dirt under the nails, scars or callouses on the hands suggesting manual labor?

The information gleaned from your systematic scan will give you a bunch of information, called ‘descriptors’ which you can then use to build a general personality profile about the person.

Step 2: Create a story or context about the person with the descriptors from the systematic scan

00:41:43 Extrapolate on the descriptors and come up with plausable, general reasons why all the descriptors would be attached to this particular person, and also certain situations when the person would do the exact opposite of the descriptors. For example, the person is impeccably presented now, but there are times when the person doesn’t feel like taking the time required to look so well-dressed…

Apply the above 2 steps and you will, on average, receive a credibility rating of roughly 85% accurate by the person you are coldreading.

[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.]

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]