Although I think the “Skeptical 12 Step Program” is really a 3 step program, I think that the first step is the one most profound: “we admit that our cognition, perception, and memory are flawed, and pseudoscience and gullibility are rampant”.
Everyone knows to a certain extent that they can be fooled by others to a certain extent. For examples, by magicians, politicians, used car salesmen, parents, spouses, etc. In my opinion, the REAL first step is realizing how often, unconsciously, and profoundly one can be fooled by himself/herself. Realizing that one has been fooled by others is easy. How does one break out of self-delusion if he doesn’t even know self-delusion is possible? As Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool”.
There are plenty of books such as “Sleights of Mind” that are not only insightful but also entertaining, and those can be great as an introduction. Others like “Mistakes Were Made” are interesting but belabors the point IMO. I personally benefited greatly from taking some excellent free courses in psychology on iTunes U, and I highly recommend courses from Dr. Jeremy Wolfe and Dr. Paul Bloom.
A long time ago when I was studying engineering, I actually considered psychology a scientifically imprecise, and by mistaken inference, a less legitimate field. It was not until much later in life, after I got interested in behavior, psychology, and neuroscience, that led me to look into the field, and by doing so, alter my misconception. Engineers are used to dealing with hard numbers, and although it is true that you cannot quantify thoughts, it does not diminish the insight it provides to the human mind, nor does it imply that the theories make less useful or testable predictions.
Compared to the other bodily organs, the chunk of thinking meat between your ears is by far the most difficult to understand, and recent scientific advancements have made it possible to peer into some of the inner workings of the chunk of crumpled meat.
I’ve always wondered at what point the meat turns bad and the ability to think deteriorate. My guess is that the CPU slows down, RAM is lost, some ROM is corrupted, and the keyboard gets stuck. Eventually, “Inception” style, entire levels of consciousness (e.g., this is sweet – this is sweet but is artificial and has no calories – I am consciously thinking about the fact that this sweetness is from an artificial sweetener – I am blogging about the fact that I might lose the ability to consciously think about the useless assessment of that stupid sweetener) will be lost. Maybe it’ll be like Charlie in Flowers for Algernon.