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Friday, 29 October 2021

Weekend Reading


Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

1. Why do people believe in conspiracy theories so easily?

Information that is interesting and attention-grabbing is easier to mentally process than information that is boring (such as realistic yet not particularly exciting information revealing that, on most days, politicians simply work on new legislation in their offices). Greater ease of processing, or fluency, has been found to promote truth judgments. This fluency heuristic likely exists because, in daily life, information that ‘feels right’ in this way is often true (eg, birds fly; fish swim). But the side-effect is that, when false information is easy to process, people more readily infer that the information is correct.


Additionally, the intense emotions triggered by conspiracy theories might suppress people’s capacity to think rationally about them. Emotions are part of a system within the human mind that produces snap judgments, while slower, more analytic thought is required for scepticism about conspiracy theories. The combination of fluency and suppression of rationality could promote the belief that there is truth in an entertaining conspiracy theory.



2. Writing as a means of generating new ideas

The best you can do is figure out what sort of work you have an "aptitude" for, so that whatever intelligence you were born with will at least be put to the best use, and then work as hard as you can at it. Whereas if intelligence isn't what matters, but only one of several ingredients in what does, and many of those aren't inborn, things get more interesting. You have a lot more control, but the problem of how to arrange your life becomes that much more complicated.


So what are the other ingredients in having new ideas? The fact that I can even ask this question proves the point I raised earlier — that society hasn't assimilated the fact that it's this and not intelligence that matters. Otherwise we'd all know the answers to such a fundamental question.


One of the most surprising ingredients in having new ideas is writing ability. There's a class of new ideas that are best discovered by writing essays and books. And that "by" is deliberate: you don't think of the ideas first, and then merely write them down. There is a kind of thinking that one does by writing, and if you're clumsy at writing, or don't enjoy doing it, that will get in your way if you try to do this kind of thinking.



3. Climate change is already here

Many people still think of climate change as a phenomenon that we will only face in the distant future. Perhaps that’s partly because climate change projections about rising temperatures and extreme weather events are tied to future dates: 2030, 2050, or 2100, for instance.


But it’s important to realise that we already are experiencing climate change, and have done so for some time now. Over the past century, global temperatures have increased by approximately 1°C. Sea level rise is already starting to affect certain low-lying coastal communities. The world is experiencing more frequent and intense extreme climate events.


These shifts have an impact on agriculture and tourism, but more importantly demonstrate that climate change is having an effect on the natural environment. These shifts in timing cannot continue indefinitely. Plants and animals have thresholds beyond which the stresses of climate change will result in at least local extinction.




4. Starting from scratch is usually a bad idea

Too often, we assume innovative ideas and meaningful changes require a blank slate. When business projects fail, we say things like, “Let's go back to the drawing board.” When we consider the habits we would like to change, we think, “I just need a fresh start.” However, creative progress is rarely the result of throwing out all previous ideas and innovations and completely re-imagining of the world.


We are mostly blind to the remarkable interconnectedness of things. This is important to understand because in a complex world it is hard to see which forces are working for you as well as which forces are working against you.


When you are dealing with a complex problem, it is usually better to build upon what already works. Any idea that is currently working has passed a lot of tests. Old ideas are a secret weapon because they have already managed to survive in a complex world.


Iterate, don't originate.



5. Stop reading the news

Most of what you read online today is pointless. It’s not important to living a good life. It’s not going to help you make better decisions. It’s not going to help you understand the world. It’s not dense with information. It’s not going to help you develop deep and meaningful connections with the people around you.


Like a drug, the news is addictive. Not only does it alter your mood, but it keeps you wanting more. Once you start consuming news, it’s hard to stop. The hotels, transportation, and ticketing systems in Disney World are all designed to keep you within the theme park rather than sightseeing elsewhere in Orlando. Similarly, once you’re on Facebook, it does everything possible, short of taking over your computer to prevent you from leaving. But while platforms like Facebook play a role in our excessive media consumption, we are not innocent. Far from it. We want to be well informed. (More accurately, we want to appear to be well informed.) And this is the very weakness that gets manipulated.


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