The Acceptable Fairies Observation

I went to EdgeRyders' "Living On The Edge" #LOTE conference, and then the #EdgeCamp unconference.

Just a few days have passed, and I can't properly even think of writing about the whole event, because there's so much to digest. [Some would say there's some humanity to digest, but I'll leave the inside joke for another day. ;-)]

For now, I can only focus on one small piece of thinking we came up with, while we were sitting in a quiet corner of the unconference venue.

The conversation was about "truth". Apparently, we can all see that some things are clearly lies: attempts at deception, even self-deception, good old common bullshit. But "truth"?

I tend to look at this from the point of view of evolutionary neurology. We have brains, our ancestors had brains, and only some of our ancestors survived and had kids. So maybe how our brains work has something to do with our survival?

When thinking about "truth", my current belief is we don't know what's out there, and we just have models, reflections of the immediate world, a picture and not the real object. For example, when there's edible food out there, inside my brain the happiness neurons light up: "that food is good".

But is it?

If my senses work well, the "that food is good" inner light will be correlated to the real presence of calories, vitamins, etc, plus the equally vital absence of toxins and germs. Whereas, if my senses don't work well, I'll eat bad food often, and I'll die before having kids. So my senses, in evolutionary terms, are selected to build pictures that somehow match reality.

Now, that's probably true for immediate, vital stuff: we're wired to see the world "well" if not seeing it "well" can kill us soon enough.

Then, why don't we all see that we're killing the world and each other? Why do we even seem to want to believe certain things?

Looking at it through the evolutionary neurology frame, it looks like we're wired to accept each other's fairies.

Why? I guess because accepting the groups' fairies lets me live within a group, and that maximises my chances of survival. I get my calories from our religion. (Which may be "right" or not.)

When looking at what we seem to be doing to the biosphere, my guess is we'll eventually learn that certain fairies are indeed fairies, but it will be too late. (Or maybe not.)

Now, how do you deal with that? Some times it's easy to see other people's fairies for what they are. We can say "this is a case of fairies' acceptance". Some times, it will be our fairies who get in the way.

The problem now becomes, just how much skepticism do we need, and how do we go about it?

I try to keep myself sceptical of other people's fairies by making sure 2% of the people I follow in twitter are, let's say, people I strongly disagree with. That way I get my daily dose of bullshit, and hopefully that keeps my immunity awake.

Except it doesn't quite work, so I'd appreciate knowing your own tricks. How do we not accept our own and each other's fairies?

7 comentarios:

  1. Can I suggest changing the last line to...
"How do we not accept our own and each other's fairies?"....

    We are all in error and error-prone. But there is an external reality called 'Nature', which is almost absolute and consistent...so far.


We can escape our errors through the humility of accepting the need to always ask 'Nature' what is true?

 With that humility as a our most important value, we may also be able to ask more fairly..."What is the right course of action at this juncture and from our current level of ignorance?"


No one can tell us what the future will bring, for even in a deterministic Universe, even Nature is mute on that topic.

The best that can be done is to ask "What is probable?" and "What is possible?".

    This must be done cautiously as the 'Black Swan' analysis of Taleb has unveiled how bad probability models have tripped up all of 'finance' and made our bad situation so much worse.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Ouch, didn't I put "our own"? I thought I had, and certainly intended to. Will fix in a sec.

      Good point about the future. Many fairies are about predictions. As far as I know, there are three ways to predict some specific future:

      1) You know the history of the event, and can speak probabilistically about the future. "This kind of surgery is generally life-saving."

      2) You know the mechanism involved. "Heads or tails are equally likely given that the mass is evenly distributed inside the coin."

      In both cases, our prediction is only as good as our model and our data combined.

      3) You know the guy who's going to do it. "I'm going to change the coin and produce one with two heads."

      Cheating in more than one sense, but it can work.

      Humility ... hard to get that into brains* the size of ours!

      (* Each is 3 pounds, or 1.5 kg, of yucky-looking stuff. I'm quite surprised we can do so much with so little.)

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  3. When did you discover PT?... His work is pretty amazing / wonderful....