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Lately I’ve been making garlic shrimp with habanero-lime quinoa once a week or so. I get into grooves; they make me seem and feel more competent than I really am. I’m not even mad when my girlfriend is surprised at how well an ambitious-sounding meal turns out—I am, too. But this is much more a testament to my ability to follow instructions than it is a sign of any real aptitude. I know what smoked paprika is, and I know what it tastes like, but I have no fucking idea how to use it unless someone tells when and how much. This is not an improvisational exercise. I’m not painting a Pollack or playing jazz drums when I cook. I’m building a shed. Out of Lego.
But it’s still rewarding. You work on the Internet all day, trying and sometimes struggling to attach meaning and value to efforts that can seem inherently ephemeral and intangible, and it’s nice to come home and actually produce something, the value of which is self-evident: this is literally the thing that will keep you from going hungry. Do it well enough, and it’s something for you and your loved ones to actually look forward to, but at the very least, it is necessary. This is essential. You are helping people survive.
If the world were static, we could have monotonically increasing confidence in our beliefs. The more (and more varied) experience a belief survived, the less likely it would be false. Most people implicitly believe something like this about their opinions. And they’re justified in doing so with opinions about things that don’t change much, like human nature. But you can’t trust your opinions in the same way about things that change, which could include practically everything else.
When experts are wrong, it’s often because they’re experts on an earlier version of the world.
Is it possible to avoid that? Can you protect yourself against obsolete beliefs? To some extent, yes. I spent almost a decade investing in early stage startups, and curiously enough protecting yourself against obsolete beliefs is exactly what you have to do to succeed as a startup investor. Most really good startup ideas look like bad ideas at first, and many of those look bad specifically because some change in the world just switched them from bad to good. I spent a lot of time learning to recognize such ideas, and the techniques I used may be applicable to ideas in general.
The first step is to have an explicit belief in change. People who fall victim to a monotonically increasing confidence in their opinions are implicitly concluding the world is static. If you consciously remind yourself it isn’t, you start to look for change.
Teens are not particularly concerned about organizational actors; rather, they wish to avoid paternalistic adults who use safety and protection as an excuse to monitor their everyday sociality.
Teens’ desire for privacy does not undermine their eagerness to participate in public. There’s a big difference between being in public and being public. Teens want to gather in public environments to socialize, but they don’t necessarily want every vocalized expression to be publicized. Yet, because being in a networked public — unlike gathering with friends in a public park — often makes interactions more visible to adults, mere participation in social media can blur these two dynamics. At first blush, the desire to be in public and have privacy seems like a contradiction. But understanding how teens conceptualize privacy and navigate social media is key to understanding what privacy means in a networked world, a world in which negotiating fuzzy boundaries is par for the course. Instead of signaling the end of privacy as we know it, teens’ engagement with social media highlights the complex interplay between privacy and publicity in the networked world we all live in now.
4. How The “Halo Effect” Turns Uncertainty Into False Certainty
My absolute favorite new podcast of 2014 is the You Are Not So Smart podcast. Wonderfully produced, voiced, and beautifully written. I can say the same for both books by David McRaney. If you are a fan of thinking about thinking and all the ways our jumble of neurons fails us in predictable ways (and thus how to combat it) you’ll love it too.
At best, you are only truly certain of a handful of things at any given time, and aside from mathematical proofs – two apples plus two apples equals four apples (and even that, in some circles, can be debated) – you’ve become accustomed to living a life in a fog of maybes.
Most of what we now know about the world replaced something that we thought we knew about the world, but it turned out we had no idea what we were talking about. This is especially true in science, our best tool for getting to the truth. It’s a constantly churning sea of uncertainty. Maybe this, maybe that – but definitely not this, unless… Nothing raises a scientist’s brow more than a pocket of certainty because it’s usually a sign that someone is very wrong.
Being certain is a metacognition, a thought concerning another thought, and the way we often bungle that process is not exclusively human. When an octopus reaches out for a scallop, she does so because somewhere in the chaos of her nervous system a level of certainty crossed some sort of threshold, a threshold that the rock next to the scallop did not. Thanks to that certainty threshold, most of the time she bites into food instead of gravel. We too take the world into our brains through our senses, and in that brain we too are mostly successful at determining the difference between things that are food and things that are not food, but not always. There’s even a Japanese game show where people compete to determine whether household objects are real or are facsimiles made of chocolate. Seriously, check out the YouTube video of a man gleefully biting off a hunk of edible door handle. Right up until he smiles, he’s just rolling the dice, uncertain.
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Segan