Seth’s Blog : Seeing and believing

Seeing and believing

It turns out that the more you watch TV, the more you believe that the world is dangerous. It turns out TV watchers believe that an astonishing 5% (!) of the population works in law enforcement. And it turns out that the more you watch TV the less optimistic you become. Cultivation theory helps us understand the enormous power that TV immersion has.

Given the overwhelming power of interaction, I’m confident that we’ll discover that internet exposure, particularly to linkbait headlines, comments and invective, will also change what people believe about the world around them.

It’s hopeful to imagine that we can change these outcomes by changing the inputs. Of course, the hard part is choosing to do so.

Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.

If we want a better future, it helps to be able to see the world as it is.

Seth’s Blog : Faux intimacy

Faux intimacy

True connection is a frightening prospect.

When you are seen by someone else, really seen, it hurts even more if you’re ultimately rejected. When we connect, we make promises, buy into a different future, engage with another, someone who might let us down (or we might let them down).

Far easier, of course, to do something more shallow.

A friend on social media is not like a friend in real life.

And so, we sit at dinner, browsing on our phone instead of connecting with the person across from us. Because the phone promises instant gratification, an exciting dopamine hit, and plenty of faux intimacy.

Which is great as far as it goes, but no, it’s not the same.

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.

Seth’s Blog : Sloppy science

Seth’s Blog :

Sloppy science

We can measure it.

For decades, every single year, scientists have visited the Galapagos and measured the beaks of a particular species of finch.

And year after year, with each generation, the beaks change, exactly as we’d expect from the weather patterns of the year before. Evolutionary biology works, and rigorous data collection backs it up.

For hundreds of years, though, science has gotten it wrong about gender, race and ethnicity. Eugenics and its brethren sound simple, but often lead to tragic outcomes.

The sloppy scientist says, “on average, across populations, left to its own devices, this group is [not as skilled] [neurotic] [hard to work with] [not as smart] [not as strong] [slower]” etc. They make assumptions without sufficient data, and the rigor is missing.

The first problem is that human beings aren’t averages, they’re individuals. And the bigger problem is that we’re never left to our own devices. We are creatures of culture.

The math that we can do on populations of hedgehogs or pigeons doesn’t apply to people, because people build and change and experience culture differently than any other species.

Your DNA is virtually identical to that of the hordes that accompanied Ghengis Khan, as well as most Cro-Magnon cavemen–pass one on the street and you wouldn’t be able to tell that he’s different from you. The reason you don’t act the way they did is completely the result of culture, not genes.

It’s culture that pushes us to level up, to dig deeper, to do things that we might not otherwise do. It’s culture that finds and encourages and pushes people to become better versions of themselves than anyone else expected to find.

So it was sloppy/lazy/fearful science that said that women couldn’t handle being doctors. And it was sloppy science that worked to limit the number of Asian or Jewish students at various institutions. And it’s sloppy science that’s been used against black people for hundreds of years.

And sloppy science said that a 4 minute mile was impossible and that a woman could never finish a marathon.

Sloppy because it doesn’t include all the relevant factors. There’s nothing wrong with the scientific method, but everything is wrong with using it poorly (and often intentionally).

What we need are caring human beings who will choose to change the culture for the better.

Not all of it, of course. Merely the culture they can touch. The people they can engage with. The human beings they can look in the eye, offer to help, offer encouragement and offer a hand up.

Once we reset the standard, it becomes the new normal, and suddenly, the sloppy science seems like phrenology. Because culture is up to us.

Sloppy science isn’t science at all. It’s the lazy or wrongheaded use of the scientific method part of the time, mixing in fear for good measure. Ignoring culture ignores the part that truly matters.

It’s tempting to judge people by their DNA. It makes a lot more sense, though, to see people based on what they can contribute instead.

Seth’s Blog : Questions for the underinformed

Questions for the underinformed

For the jingoistic sign carrier, the impatient shareholder, the late-night goofball and the nascent entrepreneur in search of cash…

We’ve heard your rants, your threats, your plans. We understand that you are in a hurry for a simple, dramatic, obvious solution to whatever problem you face.

“And then what happens?”

“Has this ever worked before?”

“How is this different (or the same) from those times?”

“What will you do when it doesn’t work the way you hoped?”

Innovation is essential, but innovation isn’t lazy. It takes insight and patience and experience to bring a new solution to an old problem.

Impatience is not a strategy.

Experience isn’t free, but it’s valuable.

And history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.