What Is Reality-Based Thinking (RBT)?

Reality-Based Thinking (RBT) is centered on what philosophers call epistemic rationalityEpistemic rationality is what philosophers and cognitive scientists call thinking that deliberately seeks to jibe with reality. Because this term is uncommon and somewhat intimidating to people who don't know what epistemic means, Jack Pelham decided to re-brand epistemic rationality as Reality-Based Thinking, the idea being that people would get the general idea quickly, without the need for as much explanation..  It employs a good-sense approach that works hard to get things right, so as to avoid the common pitfalls in thinking.  Fortunately for us all, it’s not particularly complicated.  Also, it’s not necessary to have a high IQ to be good at RBT; you don’t have to be a genius; you just have to care enough to do a little bit of learning, and then to do the work required to apply RBT in daily life.  Here is our official definition of RBT:

Reality-Based Thinking

noun — (also called RBT) thinking that is deliberately responsible to the entire realityWhen we say reality, we mean: the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. of a subject, whether certain facets of that reality are favorable or unfavorable, known or unknown.

RBT can perhaps be most conveniently understood by way of the following checklist.  This “Realty Check” is a three-step guide to RBT.  It is fairly self-explanatory:

The Reality Check

I.  Readiness Check:

You can’t do RBT if you aren’t ready to do some work in order both to think and to be honest.  So here’s a Readiness Check involving three matters of morality that are necessary for RBT to be successful.

    1. Care.  Do I care enough about this issue to exert the energy required for RBT?
    2. Honesty.  Am I being honest enough to avoid denialdenial--a psychological defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. (Definition from Wikipedia.) and to acknowledge and put aside any biases bias--- a method of thinking that is flawed, necessarily leading to erroneous conclusions. EXAMPLES: 1) All people of that race are thieves. 2) If they are disagreeing with me, they must hate me. 3) If I were wrong about this, I would know it.I may have on this topic?
    3. Self Correction.  Am I ready to correct myself if I discover that my knowledge and/or belief is incorrect at some point?

II.  Information Check:

Many cognitive errors are built upon faulty information that we formulated ourselves or took in from other sources.  We also get tricked by considering only what information is readily available or easily processed, and ignoring anything else.  The following steps help us to avoid these common errors.

1.  Is what I already know/believe about this subject correct?

2. Is what I have been told—or am being told—about this subject correct?


Don’t just consider what you already know, but how much may be lacking in your knowledge.

3.  Have I taken into account all relevant, knownThe things you already know. reality?

4.  Have I searched to discover as much relevant, unknownThe things that can be known about a particular subject, but that you just haven't learned yet. reality as possible?

5.  Am I keeping in mind the possibility that this subject involves some unknowableThings that you're just not in a position to know, such as the future, or such as past events for which there is no accurately-recorded account. reality?

III.  Mechanics Check:

Do I know HOW to solve this kind of problem?

Do I know HOW to solve this kind of problem?

Fortunately for us, reality strictly follows some observable and understandable rules.  Just like we count on gravity, and on the sun coming up each morning, we can pretty much count on the mechanics of logic and probability to guide us in our daily exercise in reality.

1. Am I over-relying on mental shortcuts, such as memory, intuition, opinion, hearsay, etc.?

2.  Am I really doing my own “math” on this issue to be sure I reach an accurate conclusion?  And have I checked my answer/solution/decision before finalizing it?

3.  Do I really know how to solve this type of problem or to correctly consider this type of issue?  If not, I need to go find out.

4. Am I handling  logicReasoning that is conducted according to strict principles of validity that have been recognized by one generation after another.  correctly?

5.  Am I figuring  probabilityThe extent to which something is probable; the likelihood of something happening or being the case correctly?

6.  Have I checked my answer before finalizing it?


IMPORTANT NOTE ON THE HUMAN IMAGINATION Please read our important note here.