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Self Delusions

Date: 11-05-11
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: David McRaney, Tony Williams

Journalist David McRaney discussed his book, You Are Not So Smart, in which he examines the myriad ways human thinking is irrational and self-deluded. "We're unaware of how unaware we are, but we really don't feel that unaware," McRaney said. We observe our own behavior as if we are on the outside, then through a process called confabulation we invent narratives to help explain our actions, he explained. As an example, McRaney referenced a study in which participants were shown two pictures of faces, asked to choose the more attractive of the pair and write an essay explaining why they picked it. The two pictures were actually the same, yet when tasked with choosing one and writing an explanation they did, he noted.

Our lives are less akin to a documentary and more like a movie that is based on a true story, McRaney continued, adding that we invent stories about ourselves in order to maintain self-esteem and have meaning. One of the self-delusional ways people do this is to impose order on their surroundings through pattern recognition. To help explain McRaney recounted the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, in which a person shoots holes in the side of barn then paints the bulls eye where the shots clustered. "We look for the hits and we ignore the misses," he said. Humans are also inclined to find agency behind the things happening around them and to justify their actions to avoid cognitive dissonance, McRaney observed.

Jack the Ripper

First hour guest, author Tony Williams (book link), talked about his relationship to Jack the Ripper as well as the recent discovery of the Victorian serial killer's knife. Williams revealed that he is a distant relative of Sir John Williams, a well-known Welsh doctor who worked for Queen Victoria and a chief suspect in the Ripper murders. He shared some evidence in support of Sir John being Jack the Ripper, as well as revealed that he found a set of medical slides containing human tissue and a 6-inch blade among an archive of his ancestor's belongings. The knife matches the description of the weapon used to inflict the fatal wounds on all five victims, he noted. Williams also mentioned his research into Prince Madoc of Wales-- folklore records say he sailed to America in 1170 and interfaced with the Mandan people of North Dakota.

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Bumper Music

Bumper music from Saturday November 05, 2011

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