Seth’s Blog : The problem with direct experience

The problem with direct experience

“I’ll know it when I see it,” or perhaps, “I’ll see it when I know it…”

We’re hardwired to believe and understand the things we can actually experience. That’s why no one argues about Newton’s laws, but most people panic or shrug when confronted with dark matter, Heisenberg or quarks.

We’re often good at accepting what’s in front of us, but bad at things that are very far away or very very close. We have trouble with things that are too big and too small, with numbers with lots of zeroes or too many decimal places. And most of all, we fail when trying to predict things that are too far in the future.

Almost nothing in our civilization is merely the result of direct experience. We rely on scouts and technologists and journalists to tell us what it’s like over there, to give us a hint about what to expect next, and most of all, to bring the insights and experiences of the larger world to bear on our particular situation.

The peril of roll-your-own science, in which you pick and choose which outcomes of the scientific method to believe is that you’re almost certainly going to endanger yourself and others. Anecdotal evidence about placebos, vaccines and the weather outside is fun to talk about, but it’s not relevant to what’s actually going to pay off in the long run.

78.45% of humans tend to hate statistics because we have no direct experience with the larger picture. It’s easier to make things up based on direct experience instead.

The solar eclipse is going to happen whether or not you believe it will, whether or not you have direct experience with previous eclipses.

When we reserve direct experience for the places where it matters—how we feel about the people in our lives, or the music we’re listening to or the painting we’re seeing, we have the priceless opportunity to become a better version of ourselves.

The rest of the time, standing on a higher ladder and seeing a bit farther is precisely what we ought to seek out.