The world’s WORST problem

If this is true…and I believe it is…
  • it is more serious than climate change
  • it is more serious than who our President is or who our next one will be
  • it is more serious than even whether we will go to war or not
  • It is the reason why the curators of Medium.com don’t ever promote the posts which carry the most gravity
  • It is the reason why newspapers do not consistently report on the most impactful news story
  • It is the reason why you feel $hitty when you’ve forgotten something that you just had to remember
  • It is the reason why people tend to misinterpret the things other people — even people they love — say and do
  • It is even the reason why you’re seriously considering not reading this. Which essentially means waiting until others read it and then realizing through them that what I’m saying is the case.
  1. Failure to recognize and take into account opportunity cost
  2. Limited bandwidth
  3. Confirmation bias/cognitive dissonance
  4. Dunning-Kruger effect
  • Confirmation bias in some fashion leads us to want to believe that new evidence confirms rather than refutes our existing assessments
  • Confirmation bias likely does this to some degree because evolution recognizes transaction costs — or to put it another way, it is statistically sensible to continue a known approach until you’re certain it does not work. This is because full revision of your technique tends to be extremely time consuming and difficult. For example, if you’re used to hammering nails using a grip very close to the head of the hammer and very rapid, short strokes, it is typically very difficult to imagine the value of competency in holding the hammer ‘the proper way’ i.e. toward the end of the handle. Any person can easily tell that it is much more challenging to hit a nail squarely with a long swing than it is to hit it with a short swing, but subscribing to that temporal reasoning very often leads to amateur carpenters never learning ‘the best way’ to swing a hammer. (That is, the ‘best way’ to swing a hammer such that you can pound the maximum number of nails into whatever you’re building in the minimum amount of time.)
  • Cognitive dissonance is essentially the pain your ass feels when you’re sitting on a pointy picket fence entertaining the thought of which lawn has the greener grass. It is the feeling of simultaneously holding two conflicting concepts in your head, and it tends to result in ‘lazy’ brains opting for the answer which seems easiest in the moment rather than the one which may be just as plausible but more aggravating to implement. Try as they might, human beings are still incredibly bad at distinguishing between the best path and what seems the easiest right this moment. Again this is the fault of our temporal reasoning processes; the bias we have toward putting off until tomorrow the things which are more easily handled today. There IS some sense in this, but when you subtract that amount of sense from the reality of all situations taken in aggregate, the remainder is most or all of the trouble we get ourselves into. In other words, selection effects encourage us to believe every time that we’re making a good decision this time and people who are not especially capable of holding multiple concepts in their mind at once are MOST PRONE TO THIS DIFFICULTY. This is a significant part of the reason why we need to specifically train creativity in our schools; why teaching tools like Ms. Putnam/Calleri’s weekly brainstorming activity in the fourth grade can make such a difference in the world today: a world where change is happening all the faster.
  • it persistently encourages you to evaluate the cost your actions have on others, even when you’re already trying to evaluate that as your primary objective.
  • it dispenses with the idea of ‘limited bandwidth.’ It suggests to you that the reason you’re here is for a purpose higher than yourself. Whether it be ‘to do the work of God’ or ‘to better the world for everyone concerned.’
  • you aren’t prone to the negative impacts of confirmation bias because you’re just as happy to be proven wrong as to learn that you were right. Your objective becomes being more correct as it pertains to your behaviors in the context of the world around you rather than to maximally guard yourself from the intimation that you might be wrong and the associated embarrassment that all too readily implies.
  • you embrace cognitive dissonance as an interesting thought puzzle to sort out, because your objective is no longer figuring things out expeditiously it’s figuring things out well.
  • Dunning-Kruger no longer applies because smug overconfidence is replaced with a willingness to assume you’re probably mistaken. Openness to the viewpoints of others. Imagine how far you’d go if you entered into each and every conversation openly and sincerely assuming you might well be wrong. All of those conversations would become less a battle of the other person seeking the flaw in your argument and you in theirs. They would become exercises in people reinforcing each other’s valid points rather than exercises in attempting to build people up by first breaking them down.

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I’m a sustainability advocate working to promote proliferation and understanding of electric vehicles and photovoltaic technology. Please send your questions!

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Brian Kent

Brian Kent

I’m a sustainability advocate working to promote proliferation and understanding of electric vehicles and photovoltaic technology. Please send your questions!

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