Sunday, July 29, 2012

This Book Will Make You Smarter

Takeaways from the book  This Book Will Make You Smarter; New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking edited by John Brockman. There were a number of scientists and learned people contributing articles. However I understood about 20% of the book. I guess I need to be smarter.
The mediocrity principle simply states that you are special. The universe does not revolve around you; this planet is not privileged in any unique way; your country is not the perfect product of divine destiny; your existence isn't the product of directed, intentional fate; and that tuna sandwich you have for lunch was not plotting to give you indigestion.
Why do you half of all Americans believe in ghosts, three quarters believe in angels, 1/3 believe in astrology, three quarters believe in hell? Why do a quarter of all Americans believe that the president of United States was born outside the country and is therefore ineligible to be president?
In the United States, recent polls show that 39% consider astrology scientific and 40% believe that our human species is less than 10,000 years old. If everyone understood the concept of scientific concepts, these percentages would be zero. Moreover, the world would be a better place, since people with a scientific lifestyle, basing their decisions on correct information, maximize their chances of success.
For youngsters, learning a foreign language and typing should trump long division and writing cursive.
Economists, forecasters, and professional portfolio managers typically do no better than chance, yet command immense salaries for their services.
Although we are pretty good at storing information in our brains, we are pretty poor  at retrieving it. We can recognize photos from our high school yearbooks decades later, yet find it impossible to remember what we had for breakfast yesterday. When we need to remember something in a situation other than the one in which it was stored, the memory is often hard to retrieve. 
Information has importance in proportion to its relevance and meaning. Its ultimate value is how we use it to make decisions and put it in a framework of knowledge.
We live, after all, in the age of information, which makes the ability to focus on the important information incredibly important. Herbert Simon said it best: "a wealth of information creates a property of attention." 
Making good decisions requires concentrated mental effort, and if we overdo it, we run the risk of being counterproductive through increased stress and wasted time. So it's best to balance, and play, and take healthy risk, as the greatest risk is that we'll get to the end of our lives having never risked  them on anything.

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