Experiments

Most people I meet are ostensibly pro-science. Pro-empirical methods.

However, most are also absolutely terrified of making a mistake. Terrified of having certain types of discussions which could “undermine their reality”.

Experimentation and science is above all about trying, failing and the freedom to assert something, even though you are biased. Correct for the bias and run the experiment.

It’s the only way towards an objective reality.

Bit by bit

When you are trying to make a contribution, there is not shortcut – particularly if you are not part of an ‘old boys network’ automatically getting your foot into the door – instead you have to start with becoming skilled. This takes practice and effort. Nothing more, nothing less.

Take the wildlife artist who can show a progression from school day sketches to celebrated conservation art: see link

Or the ESG researcher who has worked their way up to be in charge of a whole department: see link

The question then becomes not “who do you know” but “what can you do”. That is far more fair on all involved.

Pleasure, sadness and reality

As an experiment, try and find the habits in your daily life that are driven by pleasure – you know the ones i mean – those things you do when you’re a little bit bored which give you that nice little buzz and dopamine hit.

It is difficult. It forces you to reflect on your actions and life, and it eventually forces you to recognise that pleasurable things are not the most fulfilling things, precisely because they are temporary and external. In this way, pleasure is different to happiness.

Pleasure is a momentary feeling that comes from something external — a good meal, a message notification, making love and so on. Pleasurable experiences can give us momentary feelings of satisfaction, but this feeling does not last long because it is dependent upon external events and experiences. Try and locate the pleasurable (not happy, remember) activity in your life and try to stop doing it for a whole day – I’m almost certain you’ll find it hard to do.

But pleasure is not wrong in and of itself – so why stop? Because we need to know how we feel without the constant pleasure seeking. Are we doing all these things because we are sad without them? And if we are in fact sad about something, shouldn’t we find a more permanent solution?

The trouble comes when we ascribe the pleasurable activities in our lives more value and power than we should. A drug addict gives heroine priority over everything else – she sees it as the source of her happiness and of her power in life. Similarly a bulimic ascribes power to food and the control thereof. In actual fact, drugs and throwing up give us but a temporary pleasure – not a true satisfaction. They are not the answer to any sadness that is felt.

Once we see the things we are deriving pleasure from, a useful next step is to reflect on how we feel when we do not have access to these things – are we happy or sad without them? If we are happy without them, then there is no real problem. Carry on living.

If we are sad without them, and furthermore if we rely on the activity more than we should – then something needs to change for the sadness to lift.

Truth and confusion – reblog

Seth Godin’s latest blog post (link) is a great post about truth and confusion:

Selling confusion

Over the last few decades, there’s been a consistent campaign to sow confusion around evolution, vaccines and climate change.

In all three areas, we all have access to far more data, far more certainty and endless amounts of proof that the original theories have held up. The data is more accurate than it’s ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids’ (and parents’) lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.

And yet…

Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn’t need to be right to be confusing.

Worth noting that this response doesn’t happen around things that are far more complicated or scientifically controversial (like gravity and dark matter). It’s the combination of visceral impact and tribal cohesion that drives the desire to deny.

Cigarette companies were among the original denialists (they claimed that cigarettes were unrelated to lung cancer, but that didn’t work out very well for them), and much of their confusion playbook is being used on these new topics..

To what end? Confusion might help some industries or causes in the short run, but where does it lead? Working to turn facts into political issues doesn’t make them any less true.

If this growing cohort ‘wins’, what do they get? In a post-science world, where physics and testable facts are always open to the layman’s opinion in the moment, how are things better? How does one develop a new antibiotic without an understanding of speciation and disease resistance?

I know what the science p.o.v. gets us if it prevails, if evolution is taught in schools, if vaccines become ever safer and widespread, if governments and corporations begin to ameliorate and prepare for worldwide weather change.

What’s a mystery is what the anti-science confusors get if they prevail. What happens when we don’t raise the next generation of scientists, when vaccines become politically and economically untenable, when we close our eyes and simply rebuild houses on the floodplain again? Gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it, neither does lung cancer.

Ask a confusor that the next time he offers a short term smoke screen. If this is a race to be the most uninformed, and the most passive, what if we win?

Will the world ever fill up?

A common refrain on many of humanity’s problems is that there are simply too many people. Flora and Fauna will never be prioritized over humans, and with an ever growing pool of humans the pressure on the environment will lead to widespread catastrophe. 

In many respects of course this is true and obvious. Forests are shrinking and animal species are going extinct. However, Humans don’t just extract from a fixed set of resources. We can also create new resources through invention. Check this awesome article for more info.

I think the future of wildlife is not so doomed but also not so wild. Unfortunately more like a zoo than a Serengeti, I think we are headed for a strong culture of managing land, technology and investment for flora and fauna to flourish. 

Like it or not, We as a species are not going to stop taking over wild lands, but we are also not going to stop innovating. 

Ability versus skill

I am learning how to swim again. I used to swim in teams at school until the age of 13, and then I just stopped. Last year I entered a triathlon and felt like I was nearly drowning on the swim leg so I resorted to breaststroke. Not exactly “captain speedy”. I decided to enlist some help.

My point is that I have to believe I can improve through practice and learning. It was so tempting after that triathlon to say I was just “not a swimmer” and that those who swim fast have the right genes for it. However, from that point of view, it’s a short step to copping out of anything and also to something altogether more sinister such as racism and eugenics.

Ability is inherent, but not so important. Skills are learned, and largely dependent on culture and attitude. I will be a better swimmer if I train.