The world inside and outside our heads

The world is an insanely complex thing to understand and we are an extremely limited specie, in fact, we are so limited that sometimes is hard to perceive these limitations.

As Daniel Kahneman put it, “We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.”

It’s about awareness. If you observe the behavior of small creatures such children or other mammals, you will see that they explore and trying to get answers by experimenting with the environment, it’s a natural thing to do.

As humans, we have a lot in common with other species, apart of having the same building blocks of DNA, take for instance the famous mirror test, which a few other species can also recognize themselves in the mirror, in other words, awareness.

But our homo-sapiens code is old, at least 300.000 years old by the recent archeological finding of a fossil in Morocco. Given the very slow rate of evolution, there’s a chance this stretching back to 400.000 years. Can you actually imagine that? Those folks were probably not that much different from us, the very same specie, with the same neocortex responsible for our way of thinking and making inferences, connecting dots.

As a specie we evolved quite a bit, of course, knowing some history and looking around that might be obvious, but something that I find quite remarkable in a broader sense, is our vocabulary and its rate of evolution.

Most people don’t care if they use the right words, or classify things appropriately. The thing is, without using uncertainty to hedge what we say, we have a tendency to generalize. You know the problem with generalizations right? All of them are false. Yes, including this one.

A very important character for science called Karl Popper once said “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing”. Popper divided waters between science and pseudoscience with his concept of falsifiability.

As we understand things, we name them, we tame them. It’s the basis of science, predictability. Science as a tool mitigated our inference mistakes by actually testing, cleverly devising experiments to overcome our limitations.

For a long time people have been trying to understand its relationship with nature, but think about it, we are fundamentally nature, It’s reasonable that we can only understand “the box”, when you are outside of it. How can nature, us, understand itself? How can our awareness outgrown the box? What is the box?

Albert Einstein once famously said: “One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike — and yet it is the most precious thing we have.”

Prediction is very important to our daily lives too, it’s not only about weather prediction, but also about setting realistic expectations about us and everything around us. We set ourselves up to fail if we don’t understand limitations and have a realistic model of the world.

It’s about understanding and being aware. Science helps us being less wrong, although it’s incredibly hard to sustain consistency, sustain the high standard for everything we do, across every discipline without compartmentalizing and having double standards of judgement especially if it’s something we care about, given our specie limitations and tendency to say things even though we don’t know or have any evidence to back it up.

When we face a challenge that might appear slightly different from what we faced or slightly ahead of our skills, we might be inclined to make a prediction such, “I can do that”, “I can do that by … given date”, even though we never did it before, that’s a bet against the unknown that, most likely than not, we will lose.

Archilochus put it better when he said: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” Navy SEALs borrow it, they are often quoted by: “Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training”.

The duality between the world in our heads and outside of it, between not only what we know and what we don’t, but especially what we think we do but actually is incorrect or incomplete is what makes the world black and white for some folks and the problem is clear, when we stop challenging things, we stop moving forward.

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