Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Drinking from the firehose...  

The Information Age is taking its toll. Too many of us are reacting to an overload of information. Nassim Taleb offers an analysis:
Now let’s add the psychological to this: we are not made to understand the point, so we overreact emotionally to noise. The best solution is to only look at very large changes in data or conditions, never small ones.
Just as we are not likely to mistake a bear for a stone (but likely to mistake a stone for a bear), it is almost impossible for someone rational with a clear, uninfected mind, one who is not drowning in data, to mistake a vital signal, one that matters for his survival, for noise. Significant signals have a way to reach you. In the tonsillectomies, the best filter would have been to only consider the children who are very ill, those with periodically recurring throat inflammation.
There was even more noise coming from the media and its glorification of the anecdote. Thanks to it, we are living more and more in virtual reality, separated from the real world, a little bit more every day, while realizing it less and less. Consider that every day, 6,200 persons die in the United States, many of preventable causes. But the media only reports the most anecdotal and sensational cases (hurricanes, freak incidents, small plane crashes) giving us a more and more distorted map of real risks. In an ancestral environment, the anecdote, the “interesting” is information; no longer today. Likewise, by presenting us with explanations and theories the media induces an illusion of understanding the world.
And the understanding of events (and risks) on the part of members of the press is so retrospective that they would put the security checks after the plane ride, or what the ancients call post bellum auxilium, send troops after the battle. Owing to domain dependence, we forget the need to check our map of the world against reality. So we are living in a more and more fragile world, while thinking it is more and more understandable.
To conclude, the best way to mitigate interventionism is to ration the supply of information, as naturalistically as possible. This is hard to accept in the age of the internet. It has been very hard for me to explain that the more data you get, the less you know what’s going on, and the more iatrogenics you will cause. [More]
I think there is something to this. As I spend more time in my shop and less - well, here - it seems to make the rest of my life a little smoother.

Or maybe it's just that I am increasingly concerned about the future and how people I care about will handle it. So the fewer allusions to an impending "Great Depression", the better I cope.

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