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Our WEIRDness Causes Our Problems. To Fix Them We Must Become Less WEIRD.


Standard intellectualization fails with complex systems – Nassim Nicholas Taleb (1)

Standard intellectualization is WEIRD cognition.

WEIRD cognition is “detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object.” (2)

Complex systems are ensembles that behave in ways not predicted by the components. (1)

WEIRD cognition struggles to understand complex systems. 

Western Civilization is WEIRD.(2)   

Western Civilization is a complex system.

Western Civilization’s WEIRDness prevents it from fully understanding itself. 

The lack of understanding is the root cause of many of today’s problems.

To address the problems Western Civilization must learn to be less WEIRD, and more holistic.

Learning is elephant training. It is the honing of intuitions, and the increase of sagacity, through repetition and long exposure.(3)(4)  It is the process of internalizing into the elephant knowledge that originates outside of it.

Elephant training takes time.  The path must be shaped, and then the path must be followed for years.

The process of becoming less WEIRD must begin in kindergarten.

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(1) The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (emphasis added)

The best example I know that gives insights into the functioning of a complex system is with the following situation. It suffices for an intransigent minority –a certain type of intransigent minorities –to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. Further, an optical illusion comes with the dominance of the minority: a naive observer would be under the impression that the choices and preferences are those of the majority. If it seems absurd, it is because our scientific intuitions aren’t calibrated for that (fughedabout scientific and academic intuitions and snap judgments; they don’t work and your standard intellectualization fails with complex systems, though not your grandmothers’ wisdom).

The main idea behind complex systems is that the ensemble behaves in way not predicted by the components. The interactions matter more than the nature of the units. Studying individual ants will never (one can safely say never for most such situations), never give us an idea on how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants. This is called an “emergent” property of the whole, by which parts and whole differ because what matters is the interactions between such parts. And interactions can obey very simple rules.

(2) The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt
(3) Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
(4) Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Discussion

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  1. Pingback: Is WEIRDness a Personality Trait? I Propose Yes. | The Independent Whig - August 30, 2016

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