“If somebody asked me what my kidneys are doing right now, I would have no idea. Yet, we really do believe that we pretty much know what goes on in our heads. And that’s because we do have access to a piece of it called the conscious mind, and that wrongly gives us the feeling that we know all of it.”—Mahzarin Banaji in the Harvard Gazette
“If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that doesn’t increase the risk of death, then about 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead.”—
Americans have become increasingly obsessed with the supposed desirability of thinness, as thinness has become both a marker for upper-class status and a reflection of beauty ideals that bring a kind of privilege.
In addition, baselessly categorizing at least 130 million Americans — and hundreds of millions in the rest of the world — as people in need of “treatment” for their “condition” serves the economic interests of, among others, the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry and large pharmaceutical companies, which have invested a great deal of money in winning the good will of those who will determine the regulatory fate of the next generation of diet drugs.
Anyone familiar with history will not be surprised to learn that “facts” have been enlisted before to confirm the legitimacy of a cultural obsessionand to advance the economic interests of those who profit from that obsession.
“[P]hilosophy… creates… minds that can — as Aristotle suggests — entertain a thought without accepting it. … [T]he open-minded study of different philosophies at least opens one up to the possibility that one is wrong. One realizes, like Socrates did, that knowledge is anything but certain, that true wisdom lies in realizing how much one does not know, in understanding that our knowledge of the universe (and therefore of earthly things like politics) is utterly inadequate, perhaps comparable to the area of a pin’s tip against a table. This realization makes one less angry when confronted with opposing views, replacing counterproductive anger with productive curiosity.”—Michael Shammas: For a Better Society, Teach Philosophy in High Schools
"There are skills that you learn by becoming academically skilled at doing historical work and reading and writing philosophy that will help you make arguments about everything from whether you should get your tires rotated, to whether that right person should marry you some day, to whether or not you’re going to get in the door of heaven. And being able to deal with evidence in a rational, substantive way is something that you learn through the study of history and philosophy. And it’s just worth doing in life. …It will make you a more effective person in life."
“Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay. In the modern state there are very few sites where this is possible. The only others that come readily to my mind require belief in an omnipotent creator as a condition for membership. It would seem the most obvious thing in the world to say that the reason why the market is not an efficient solution to libraries is because the market has no use for a library. But it seems we need, right now, to keep re-stating the obvious. There aren’t many institutions left that fit so precisely Keynes’ definition of things that no one else but the state is willing to take on. Nor can the experience of library life be recreated online. It’s not just a matter of free books. A library is a different kind of social reality (of the three dimensional kind), which by its very existence teaches a system of values beyond the fiscal.”—Zadie Smith, in the New York Review of Books. (via thebronzemedal)
Incentives in academic life create a tension between truth-seeking and professional advancement. Nosek argues that these incentives create a subconscious bias toward making research decisions in favor of novel results that may not be true.
“[P]eople are going to do philosophy one way or another. When a politician argues that a bill unfairly impinges on our freedoms, he’s doing philosophy. When someone expresses a belief in God, she’s doing philosophy. If we stop teaching people how philosophy is done, we’re not going to get less philosophy, we’re going to get shitty philosophy, which leads to shitty, incoherent policies.”—Philosophy Bro: Does Philosophy Matter?
“For me, the biggest change in my life happened when I stopped trying to accomplish everything at once. I realized that I’m actually incredibly lazy—most of what I do has to do with habits and trivial stimuli, rather than deep thoughts. Instead of trying to change every behavior at once, I would pick something incredibly small and simple and focus on it for an entire month. Even that can be difficult, but it meant I could make a change almost habitual before I tried something else.”—
Neuroscientists at University College London asked people to guess their odds of experiencing bad luck, with and without previous information on the mishaps, and analyzed their brains via fMRI.
[They] asked 19 individuals between the ages of 19 and 27 to estimate their odds of experiencing 80 unfavorable events, such as contracting various diseases or being the victim of a crime. Participants were then told the actual average probability of each before repeating the exercise.
The participants revised most of their estimates the second time around, but 79 percent of those tested paid much more attention when their actual risk was lower than what they had initially guessed. After getting the good news, these subjects rated their risk for these events as significantly lower than they did earlier. In contrast, when they had underestimated their odds of meeting with a particular misfortune, they made less drastic revisions to their guess or none at all—clinging to their earlier belief that they would probably avoid the bad luck.
In other words, we’re optimistic by design, even when we know we shouldn’t be.
“Consider the many filters that a study must pass — from approval by one’s advisor, to design, to data collection, to analysis and write-up, to refereeing, to editorial acceptance, to public dissemination. At each step, the sexy study has an advantage over less-sexy competitors. The cumulative advantage in the marketplace of ideas should make us nervous about forming our opinions based on what we see in the news.”—Eric Schwitzgebel: On Whether the Rich Are Jerks
When I was living in Canada, we asked people how much money they would be willing to pay to clean lakes from acid rain in the Halliburton region of Ontario, which is a small region of Ontario. We asked other people how much they would be willing to pay to clean lakes in all of Ontario. People are willing to pay the same amount for the two quantities because they are paying to participate in the activity of cleaning a lake, or of cleaning lakes. How many lakes there are to clean is not their problem.
This is a mechanism I think people should be familiar with. The idea that when you’re asked a question, you don’t answer that question, you answer another question that comes more readily to mind. That question is typically simpler; it’s associated, it’s not random; and then you map the answer to that other question onto whatever scale there is.
“Joseph Kony is evil and should be stopped. He has allegedly abducted 30,000 children in his long military campaign. Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of children every year. Joseph Kony has committed atrocities that make me furious. But malaria makes me angrier. Why? Because malaria deaths really do happen just because Americans don’t care enough.”— The Worst Killer of Invisible Children is Not Joseph Kony | GiveWell