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Bookworm: Better think twice

A client told you something today, but you’re not sure if you should believe it.

Think_webWhat he said was pretty far-fetched and, though he’s a nice guy, he might’ve been pulling your leg. Still, if he was right, it could make you the star of the office. If he was kidding, then you’ll be the office goat.

Your horoscope said it would be that kind of day.

So how do you analyze what’s true and what’s not? Can you tell when someone’s pulling the wool over your eyes? Read “Think” by Guy P. Harrison and you might learn to be a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic.

Do you believe everything you’re told?

Of course, you don’t. And that, says Harrison, proves that you’re on your way to being a skeptic. Good skeptics, he says, question what they’re told and try to verify facts with science. Skepticism, he hints, is actually a kind of science.

In order to “think like a scientist,” Harrison says you need to constructively close your mind a little bit. People “love finding a brain with a wide-open doorway and nobody standing guard,” and leg-pullers can easily spot gullibility. If something sounds a little fishy, you can then “give science a chance” to explain what’s really going on.

Just remember that your own gray matter may try to trick you.

Lawyers and scientists already know that our memories aren’t at all reliable. Our brains tend to fill in the blanks of what we see, and our recollections can be manipulated by suggestion and imagination. Furthermore, we’re automatically biased by a subconscious that loves conformity, confirmation and crowd-thinking.

So how can you cultivate a healthy skepticism?

Take care of what’s inside your head, which means eat right and get plenty of sleep. Ask questions and don’t “passively accept what you are told.” Look closely at things, and listen hard to what’s being said about the issue in question. Do your homework before blindly sharing any information that may be wrong. Test the information if you can, and know how to (nicely) pass the truth forward.

I had such high hopes for “Think.” Unfortunately, I had to debunk myself.

I believe the problem was that this book is too simplistic and flippant. Harrison employs humor and elbow-nudging here, as well as overdone, outrageous examples to illustrate that which he’s discussing. That’s fun, but it ruins the usefulness of what we learn.

Reading “Think” is a good time, but with the silliness and the repetition, it’s just not informative enough. Add in a lengthy list of new-agey beliefs that can be explained by science and a fable (oh, how I hate fables!), and you’ve got a book that belongs in the humor section more than anywhere else.

This isn’t a terrible book, but it could have been so much more. Readers who want to prove that unicorns and ogres aren’t real will enjoy “Think” enormously. But for anybody who truly wants to learn the art of analysis, I don’t think it’ll be much help.

“Think: Why You Should Question Everything” by Guy P. Harrison

c.2013, Prometheus Books $16.95 240 pages