We’re thinking at the wrong things

Written on 20 May 2016, 02:44pm

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It seems like we, humans, have the strange ability to worry about little things and to procrastinate or ignore the big, important ones. NN Taleb explains this in his essay ‘The Black Swan’:

What are our minds made for? It looks as if we have the wrong user’s manual. Our minds do not seem made to think and introspect; if they were, things would be easier for us today, but then we would not be here today and I would not have been here to talk about it—my counterfactual, introspective, and hard-thinking ancestor would have been eaten by a lion while his nonthinking but faster-reacting cousin would have run for cover. Consider that thinking is time-consuming and generally a great waste of energy, that our predecessors spent more than a hundred million years as nonthinking mammals and that in the blip in our history during which we have used our brain we have used it on subjects too peripheral to matter. Evidence shows that we do much less thinking than we believe we do—except, of course, when we think about it.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Exhibit A: Superbugs

Superbugs will kill someone every three seconds by 2050 unless the world acts now, a hugely influential report says.
A global revolution in the use of antimicrobials is needed, according to a government backed report.
Lord Jim O’Neill, who led the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, said a campaign was needed to stop people treating antibiotics like sweets.
It is the first recommendation in the global plan for preventing medicine “being cast back into the dark ages”.
The report has received a mixed response with some concerned that it does not go far enough.
Superbugs, resistant to antimicrobials, are estimated to account for 700,000 deaths each year.
But modelling up to the year 2050, by Rand Europe and auditors KPMG, suggests 10 million people could die each year – equivalent to one every three seconds.
BBC: Global antibiotics ‘revolution’ needed

Exhibit B: Climate change

In spite of reports, evidence, climate refugees and general consensus in the science world that climate change is starting to affect our lifes, there are still top level politicians arguing that everything is just ‘peer-pressure’ and that ‘everybody is a scientist’:

Ex-Alaska governor promotes Climate Hustle film and calls for intervention to stop the ‘peer pressure’ as world leaders agree global warming is a serious threat.
The former vice-presidential nominee admitted she did not believe scientists about anything any more – and appealed to presidential contenders to intervene, somehow.
The Guardian – Climate change denier Sarah Palin: ‘Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am’

As a side note, there is a nice response to the statement above.
But unfortunately, we’re doing very little to fight climate change. Hopefully it won’t be too late.

Exhibit C: Colonizing other worlds

I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space (Stephen Hawking)
We should do it soon, because colonizing other worlds is our best chance to hedge our bets and improve the survival prospects of our species. Sooner or later something will get us if we stay on one planet. (Princeton professor J. Richard Gott)
In the long run a single-planet species will not survive (Nasa Administrator Michael Griffin)
http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/08/how-and-why-spacex-will-colonize-mars.html/2

Apparently, in this case at least, someone is thinking big. There is hope 🙂

black swan

Weekly links #3

Written on 30 October 2015, 12:11pm

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Daniel Craig on his series of Bond movies

One of the greatest problems we face today is people’s self-awareness. It’s all about “Who am I?” instead of “What am I doing?”
RedBulletin

The best acting is when you’re not concerned about the surface. And Bond is the opposite of that. You have to be bothered about how you’re looking. It’s a struggle. I know that how Bond wears a suit and walks into a room is important. But as an actor I don’t want to give a fuck about what I look like! So I have to play with both things. In a way that works, as that’s Bond: he looks good and he doesn’t give a fuck what you think he looks like!’
Timeout

Greenland is melting away

“We scientists love to sit at our computers and use climate models to make those predictions. […] But to really know what’s happening, that kind of understanding can only come about through empirical measurements in the field.”

Each year, the federal government spends about $1 billion to support Arctic and Antarctic research by thousands of scientists […] But the research is under increasing fire by some Republican leaders in Congress, who deny or question the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to climate change.
NY Times

Two interesting concepts

Negative externality – or unaccounted-for cost:

In the auto industry, CO2 emissions are the negative externality. If you have a cheap and easy way to build cars that dump garbage into the atmosphere and no one makes you pay for it, why would you ever change anything?
[…]
This kind of negative externality is how tobacco companies got away with murder for so many decades.
Wait but why

Normalization of deviance

“Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for the elementary safety”
Diane Vaughan

The scandal wouldn’t have been caused by a few rogue engineers, though, so much as by the nature of engineering organizations themselves. Faced with an expensively engineered diesel engine that couldn’t meet strict emissions standards, Volkswagen engineers “tuned” their engine software. And they kept on tuning it, normalizing deviance along the way, until they were far from where they started, to the point of gaming the emissions tests by detecting test conditions and re-calibrating the engine accordingly on the fly.
An engineering theory of the VW scandal

EU does something right, but…

27 oct 2015:
The European Parliament today voted in favor of net neutrality rules that, in theory, will prevent ISPs from blocking and throttling traffic or implementing paid fast lanes. But MEPs did not adopt amendments designed to strengthen the rules by closing potential loopholes.
Ars Technica

Today, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour of a resolution to drop charges against Edward Snowden, who is currently wanted by the US under charges defined by the ‘Espionage Act’. But the vote is not as concrete as people might think it is. It was merely a suggestion instead of a binding law, thanks to Europe’s hugely convoluted legal system.
Snowden, I’m happy for you, but don’t start packing your bags anytime soon.
The Next Web

autumn