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The Scipionic Circle 74: Avoid Being Fooled, Understanding Human Cognition, and The Dance of Impermanence
"Humans are neophiles; they’re attracted to whatever’s new. As such, they're always chasing the latest info, ignoring anything older than 24 hours."
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Triad of Tactics: Shielding Yourself from Deception
“Survivorship Bias: During WWII, the statistician Abraham Wald examined planes riddled with bullet-holes from recent battles. He concluded that the best areas of the planes to reinforce with armor were not the regions with the most bullet-holes, but the least. The reason was that the planes he was examining were the ones that had safely returned; those that received damage to other areas didn’t survive to be examined. This is relevant today because the information we consume online must also survive significant selection effects before we see it. Crucially, the info in your feed has been selected because it’s surprising. It is therefore an indication not of the ordinary but the extraordinary, a reflection not of reality but of that which is uncharacteristic of reality. Remember this whenever your feed convinces you the world is going crazy.”
“Streetlight Effect: A police officer sees a drunkard searching under a streetlight and asks what the man has lost. The drunk says he lost his keys and the cop joins him in his search. After a few minutes the cop asks if the drunk is sure he lost the keys here, and the drunk says he’s not. The cop asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, ‘This is where the light is.’ The moral of the story is that people tend to search where it’s easiest to look. They get all their information from the first few search results, read the books that appear at the top of bestseller lists, and follow whatever topics are trending on social media. The problem with such ‘streetlights’ is that they reflect the behaviors, and cater to the desires, of the average human, and the average human isn’t very smart. If you want to avoid popular blindspots, avoid getting your info from popularity contests like top search results, ‘trending’ algorithms, and bestseller lists.”
“The Never-Ending Now: Humans are neophiles; they’re attracted to whatever’s new. As such, they're always chasing the latest info, ignoring anything older than 24 hours. The problem with this approach is that the latest info is often shit. Its main selling point is not its quality but its novelty, and to ensure its novelty it is typically rushed out, so it’s mostly untested and often inaccurate. This lack of quality control means the newest info is also the most perishable, and people who endlessly chase it spend their lives in a never-ending now of momentary seeing and forgetting, a trench in time that obscures the past and future. If you want to improve the quality of the info that enters your head, end your addiction to the new. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through breaking news, status updates, and the latest gossip, seek out info that's stood the test of time: classic literature, replicated studies, proven theorems, and fulfilled predictions. Millennia of humanity’s accumulated wisdom await you.” — From 10 Ways to Avoid Being Fooled by Gurwinder Bhogal.
II. The Power of Metaphors: Understanding Human Cognition
“Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know. For example, it’s hard to think about life in general, but once you apply the metaphor ‘life is a journey,’ the metaphor guides you to some conclusions: You should learn the terrain, pick a direction, find some good traveling companions, and enjoy the trip, because there may be nothing at the end of the road. It’s also hard to think about the mind, but once you pick a metaphor it will guide your thinking. Throughout recorded history, people have lived with and tried to control animals, and these animals made their way into ancient metaphors. Buddha, for example, compared the mind to a wild elephant: In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it. Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by the trainer.
“Plato used a similar metaphor in which the self (or soul) is a chariot, and the calm, rational part of the mind holds the reins. Plato’s charioteer had to control two horses: The horse that is on the right, or nobler, side is upright in frame and well jointed, with a high neck and a regal nose; … he is a lover of honor with modesty and self-control; companion to true glory, he needs no whip, and is guided by verbal commands alone. The other horse is a crooked great jumble of limbs … companion to wild boasts and indecency, he is shaggy around the ears—deaf as a post—and just barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined. For Plato, some of the emotions and passions are good (for example, the love of honor), and they help pull the self in the right direction, but others are bad (for example, the appetites and lusts). The goal of Platonic education was to help the charioteer gain perfect control over the two horses.
“Sigmund Freud offered us a related model 2,300 years later. Freud said that the mind is divided into three parts: the ego (the conscious, rational self); the superego (the conscience, a sometimes too rigid commitment to the rules of society); and the id (the desire for pleasure, lots of it, sooner rather than later). The metaphor I use when I lecture on Freud is to think of the mind as a horse and buggy (a Victorian chariot) in which the driver (the ego) struggles frantically to control a hungry, lustful, and disobedient horse (the id) while the driver’s father (the superego) sits in the back seat lecturing the driver on what he is doing wrong. For Freud, the goal of psychoanalysis was to escape this pitiful state by strengthening the ego, thus giving it more control over the id and more independence from the superego.” — From The Happiness Hypothesis: Ten Ways to Find Happiness and Meaning in Life by Jonathan Haidt.
III. Perceiving the Flux: The Evolutionary Dance of Impermanence
“The human mind naturally freezes the relentless passage of time by presenting us with static images of people, our culture, and our own self-identity. But if we were truly sensitive to evolution, we would realize these are only passing shadows in a world of ceaseless flux. Every minute of every day we are aging; every encounter with others alters and shapes our ideas; we are a continuous work in progress, never quite the same. As Heraclitus once said, ‘You cannot step into the same river twice; it is not the same river, and you are not the same person.’ Evolution requires this continuous flux and periodic cycles of mass destruction to create space for new forms and experiments. We humans, however, aware of our mortality, recoil from this; we want to hold onto the past and mentally stop the flow. We want to hold onto our grievances and even our pain, as well as our pleasures—all to create an illusion of inner permanence and stability. Instead, we must learn to let go, to accept completely all the separations life forces upon us. It is the very impermanence of our experiences and all living things around us that give them poignancy and significance. Be consoled that nothing will last—not the depression nor disappointments we feel in the present. The sublimity of the world around us is heightened by knowing how short our time is to witness it.” — From The Daily Laws: 366 Meditations on Power, Seduction, Mastery, Strategy and Human Nature by Robert Greene.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Friedrich Nietzsche on life’s ultimate purpose:
“I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible.”
II. Bruce Lee on upholding authenticity:
“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
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Thank you for reading,