Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Que Sais-Je?

Adam Gurri:

I’ve been told, by people familiar with this literature, that surely the situation isn’t so dire—we can think for ourselves. But it’s not clear to me what this even means—in practice “thinking for yourself” seems to involve reading what a lot of other people think. In short, at best you are adding a few more voices to the pantheon, but your system 2 is still basically at the mercy of the suggestions from system 1. You are, perhaps, adding more perspectives from which a suggestion might originate, and maybe there’s even some benefit to that—people like Nate Silver make a version of that argument. But it still doesn’t sound like “thinking for yourself”; rather, it sounds like trying to be choosy about who it is exactly you’re allowing to think for you.

No lesson here, no big takeaway. Except perhaps the simple reminder that we are all quite bad at this; whether or not we believe ourselves to be the nudgers rather than the nudged, or meta-rational rather than simply muddling through with the rest of us. The biggest takeaway, really, is that we could all use a lot more humility. But for those of us with the “someone is wrong on the Internet” bug, that is a hard lesson to learn, and harder still to stick to.

I feel stupider for having read this. In this context, though, that's not an insult! Seriously, though, I often do feel like wisdom is less about "learning", in the sense of acquiring more information, than about continuing to shake off what doesn't belong to me.