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“Every chapter is a welcome reminder that you are not so smart — yet you’re never made to feel dumb.  You Are Not So Smart is a dose of psychology research served in tasty anecdotes that will make you better understand both yourself and the rest of us. You’ll find new perspectives on your relationships with people you know, people you don’t, and even brands. It turns out we’re much more irrational than most of us think, so give yourself every advantage you can and read this book.” - Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder of

“You Are Not So Smart is positively one of the smartest books to come by this year — no illusion there.” - Maria Popova of Brain Pickings

“Simply wonderful.  An engaging and useful guide to how our brilliant brains can go badly wrong.” - Richard Wiseman — bestselling author of 59 Seconds and Quirkology

“McRaney’s sweeping overview is like taking a Psych 101 class with a witty professor and zero homework.” - Psychology Today

“Want to get smarter quickly? Read this book”- David Eagleman — neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

“A much-needed field guide to the limits of our so-called consciousness. McRaney presents a witty case for just how witless we all are.” - William Poundstone — bestselling author of Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google

“Fascinating… After reading this book, you’ll never trust your brain again.” - Alex Boese — bestselling author of Elephants on Acid and Electric Sheep

“Deflating to a certain audience that wants to believe in exceptions, You Are Not So Smart is a tonic to the noxious sweetness of overachievement, an acknowledgment of ordinariness that glories in the quirks of being human without forcing them into a triumphant pyramid. That which cannot be overcome is a part as vital to the human experience as that impulse to try even harder to overcome nature. And if that fails, the flip side to a population crediting itself with falsely inflated powers of observation is that no one might notice if you, too, are not so smart.” - The Onion A.V. Club

“In an Idiocracy dominated by cable TV bobbleheads, government propagandists, and corporate spinmeisters, many of us know that mass ignorance is a huge problem. Now, thanks to David McRaney’s mind-blowing book, we can finally see the scientific roots of that problem. Anybody still self-aware enough to wonder why society now worships willful stupidity should read this book.” - David Sirota, syndicated columnist, radio host and author of “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now

You Are Not So Smart is a book about all the wonderful ways you delude yourself every day. You are unaware of how unaware you are, and you've become the unreliable narrator in the story of your life.

You could use a healthy dose of humility, and inside this book you'll find entries on topics like priming, expectation, confabulation, apophenia, normalcy bias, the fundamental attribution error, and many more

With each new subject you will soon realize you are not so smart, and thanks to a plethora of cognitive biases, faulty heuristics and common fallacies, you are probably deluding yourself minute by minute just to cope with reality. That’s ok though. We’re all in this together, and these are our shared mental stumbling blocks.



Here are just a few of the hundreds of new ideas you’ll stuff in your head while reading You Are Now Less Dumb:

• You’ll finally understand why people wait in line to walk into unlocked rooms and how that reveals a universal behavior that slows progress and social change.

• You’ll discover the connection between salads, football, and consciousness.

• You’ll learn why people who die and come back tend to return with similar stories, and you’ll see how the explanation can help you avoid arguments on the internet.

• You’ll see why Bill Clinton, Gerard Butler, and Robert DeNiro all believe in the same magical amulet because they are all equally ignorant in one very silly way that you can easily avoid.

• You’ll learn about a scientist’s bizarre experiment that tested what would happen if multiple messiahs lived together for several years and how you can use what he learned to debunk your own delusions.

• You’ll learn why the same person’s accent can be irritating in some situations and charming in others and you can use that knowledge to make better hiring choices and improve education.

"You Are Now Less Dumb is "a book about self-delusion, but also a celebration of it," a fascinating and pleasantly uncomfortable-making look at why "self-delusion is as much a part of the human condition as fingers and toes," and the follow-up to McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart, one of the best psychology books of 2011. McRaney, with his signature fusion of intelligent irreverence and irreverent intelligence...[explores] such facets of our self-delusion as why we see patterns where there aren’t any, how we often confuse the origin of our emotional states, and more." - Mario Papova


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Before I explain where the idea came from for the first trailer, I’d like to endorse the people who did the hardest work. If you need a video, please contact Plus3. They made the trailers above, and they are great to work with. You can visit their website at

It’s true. People educated and not so educated believed that geese grew on trees for at least 700 years.

A certain type of barnacle often found floating on driftwood was thought to be a goose egg case because it kind of, sort of, looked like a goose that lived in the same area. According to the naturalist Sir Ray Lankester, nature texts going back to the 1100s described trees with odd fruits from which geese would hatch, and there is evidence to suggest the belief goes back 2,000 years earlier.

There was a particular breed of goose that lived along the marshes in Britain, and this goose migrated to breed and lay its eggs. The geese seemed to sometimes suddenly appear in large numbers in the same places where, while the geese were missing for long stretches, the barnacles tended to wash ashore. Wise, learned monks explained to the people of the day that the barnacles were the geese in their early stages of development. Lankester wrote that the belief was further solidified by those same monks who also claimed you could eat a barnacle goose during Lent because, well, it wasn’t a bird. Apparently the belief was well-established and quite popular because in 1215 Pope Innocent III announced that, although everyone knew they grew on trees, the eating of barnacle geese was still strictly prohibited by the church, effectively closing the loophole created by those wily monks.

“They do not breed and lay eggs like other birds; nor do they ever hatch any eggs nor build nests anywhere. Hence clergymen in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off these birds at the time of fasting, because they arre not flesh nor born of flesh!” – Gerald of Wales, medieval historian, writing as royal clerk to Henry II in Topographia Hibernica

The idea wasn’t difficult to accept to minds of that era because spontaneous generation was already an accepted truth yet to be torn apart by scientists using scientific methods. People still believed that rotting meat gave birth to flies all by itself and that piles of dirty rags could transform into mice and that most everything else came from slime or mud. A tree that sprouted bird buds seemed reasonable, especially if after 500 years you had never once caught two of the adults mating.

Sometime in the 1600s the myth began to fade because explorers in Greenland discovered the birds’ nesting sites. The second blow came when people finally started poking around inside the weird buds. Lankester writes in his 1915 book, Diversions of a Naturalist, “The belief in the story seems to have died out at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the structure of the barnacle lying within its shell was examined without prejudice, and it was seen to have only the most remote resemblance to a bird.”

You don’t believe in goose trees today not because it’s a silly idea, but because scientists discovered evidence to the contrary and then passed that information around. The lesson here is that silly ideas don’t just go away because they are silly. You need a system to test them.

Science can be difficult to define without explaining a lot of explanations of explanations, but physicist Sean Carroll recently wrote on his blog that science can pretty much be boiled down to three principles (the following is a direct quote):

1. “Think of every possible way the world could be. Label each way an ‘hypothesis.'”
2. “Look at how the world actually is. Call what you see ‘data’ (or ‘evidence’).”
3. “Where possible, choose the hypothesis that provides the best fit to the data.”

Think about how you might apply those same principles in your own life – shopping, eating bagels, discussing politics, choosing a career, and so on.

Remember, without an agreed-upon system for making sense of reality and a network of observers questioning each other’s data and methods, goose trees remained common knowledge for hundreds of years. Imagine what weird, untested things might be floating around in your aquarium of beliefs.

I write about this in You Are Now Less Dumb because you should understand that your natural way of understanding the world is no better than the people who used to believe geese grew on trees. Just like them, you’re pretty terrible at being skeptical. Just like them, you prefer to confirm your beliefs instead of disconfirming them. It’s just the way brains work. You are less dumb because you were born after science became an institution. People have done science for long enough to falsify a lot of old myths.

The scientific method is a tool human beings use to prevent themselves from doing what comes naturally. Without it, you prefer to explain what you observe in reverse: you start with a conclusion and use motivated reasoning to defend an assumption formed through the lens of confirmation bias while committing the post hoc fallacy as you argue for your an explanation couched in narrative supported by hindsight bias and a mixed bag of other self delusions.

Science forces you to see your conclusions as what they usually are – hypotheses. It then makes a zillion other hypotheses and starts smashing them all to pieces with data. Eventually, the hypotheses that survive are more likely than the ones that perish. It’s a method you should borrow. Try it sometime, and after you’ve subjected your own hypotheses to abuse notice how that forces you to draw new conclusions about this strange, beautiful, complicated experience of being a person.



Book photos: Diversions of a Naturalist by Sir Ray Lankester


Carroll, S. (2013) What is Science? –

Hancock, A. (2012). Weird Myths About Gooseneck Barnacles. –

Heron-Allen, E. (1928). Barnacles in Nature and in Myth 1928.

White, B. (1945, July). Whale-Hunting, the Barnacle Goose, and the Date of the “Ancrene Riwle.” The Modern Language Review Vl. 40, No. 3

Wilkins, J. S. (2006). Tales of the barnacle goose. Evolving Thoughts.