This book is about how we know what we know and how to differentiate facts and reality from belief into something being facts and reality, even if it is just the result of chemistry in the believer’s brain. Here is how the author defines the central thesis:” The revolutionary premise at the heart of this book is: Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.” The critical part of the book is the author’s attempt to “dispel the myth that we “know what we know” by conscious deliberation.” Finally, the author explicitly presents his objective in this book:” My goal is to strip away the power of certainty by exposing its involuntary neurological roots. If science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider alternative ideas—from opposing religious or scientific views to contrary opinions at the dinner table.
MY TAKE ON IT:
My attitude to this issue is simple. There are two methods of perceiving the external world: religious and scientific. Evolutionary, the first method, ensures an individual’s behavior that benefits the group, even if such behavior leads to the individual’s demise. In contrast, the second method assures an individual’s behavior that benefits this individual and his/her children, even if such behavior damages the group’s cohesion and existence. Both types of behavior are based on our neural circuitry as it developed from DNA after the influence of the environment. Each method provides individuals with two powers, both necessary for survival. The religious method provides complete explanatory power: who the individual is, how the world works, what the individual had to do and how. However, this method has nearly zero predictive power and, therefore, must be constantly adjusted to prevent pain and suffering from cognitive dissonance.
On the other hand, the scientific method provides very limited explanatory power. It, therefore, is clearly inferior to the religious method in supporting the group’s cohesiveness and controlling individual behavior. However, it is the only method that provides limited predictive power. Despite being limited, the predictive power of the scientific method allows humans to control the environment to an increasing extent. This control produces things that do not exist without human intervention, eventually making human life a lot better than before the scientific method expanded beyond its mainly unconscious use by individuals into more formal and, therefore, transferrable applications.
Here are a couple of examples I would like to offer:
- The scientific method at the individual level: the toddler learns to walk via a long process of trial and error until the toddler’s brain circuitry develops sufficient parameters to reliably predict how the body’s situation in space will change depending on the activation of one or another set of muscles.
- The religious method at the group’s level: the belief in global warming that persists regardless of 60+ years of failures to predict climate changes and events correctly. The supporters of this religion constantly demand more public money while threatening a global catastrophe if the money is not provided. All other features change frequently: they could predict cooling, warming, or dramatic instantaneous switches between cooling and warming. However, they would never ever predict what really happens: moderate climate changes caused by a multitude of factors, human activities included, that require reasonable technological adjustments. This religion’s explanatory power regarding what happened is infinite and includes highly sophisticated math and computer models. However, its predictive power is precisely zero, which anyone could observe by looking at any materials produced by this religion’s adherents 20 or more years ago, either books, movies, or lectures.
This book looks at humans from the point of view of their similarities and dissimilarities with their closest surviving relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos. It nicely demonstrates human bipolarity when we combine chimps’ aggressive and violent behavior with their constant and often murderous strive for dominance with mainly peaceful and sexually obsessed bonobos. It is interesting how much the character of both these species, to a significant extent, is defined by their relations between sexes: male-dominated chimps and female-dominated bonobos. We, humans, are a bit more complicated with our mostly male-dominated societies at the face combined with often concealed female dominance. The nice picture below shows how close we are to our relations, which at least somewhat explains all of this:
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a nice reminder of our evolutionary roots, which explains our societal structures and individual behavior. However, unlike our close relatives, we invented language and control over the microclimate around us using fire, clothes, housing, effective hunting, and militaristic organization. All these inventions allowed us to take over the world and eventually move from a life of struggle for survival to a life of enjoyment when survival could be taken for granted. We are not all there yet, but we will probably arrive there after some 100 or something years of additional development. I do not doubt it will happen, but the most interesting question is – HOW?
This book explores unpredictable and seemingly spontaneous changes in complex networks. When some random event initiates a dramatic increase in the network’s activities to implement massive qualitative change, the results are various and unpredictable. Sometimes the change is successful, and the intended result occurs. Sometimes the change occurs but in a very different shape and form than intended. Finally, the most frequent occurrence: the activity slowly decreases, and the network returns to its original state. The author analyses how exactly it happens and looks at specific details of the processes that lead either to the change’s success or failure. The book reviews successes such as the Ukrainian maidan movement and failures such as Occupy movement. The author’s most crucial point is that the old world of hierarchies is going away, and the new world of networks is coming, and it will dominate the human future. In the afterword, the author even provides six steps plan for how to implement a significant qualitative change:
1. IDENTIFY A KEYSTONE CHANGE
2. MAKE A PLAN
3. BUILD A NETWORK OF SMALL GROUPS
4. INDOCTRINATE GENOMES OF VALUES
5. CREATE PLATFORMS FOR PARTICIPATION, MOBILIZATION, AND CONNECTION
6. SURVIVE VICTORY
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a lovely review of the process of mass changes in human societies. I would only notice that the novelty of the network’s role in the change is somewhat overstated. I think it is because the author, like many others in the contemporary world, takes the interconnectedness of modern networks for granted when everybody can easily connect to everybody else. Significant societal changes always occurred even when connections were very slow and the new ideas expanded over decades or centuries rather than days and hours. The key characteristics of the process did not change that much. Similarly, the struggle between networks and hierarchy is not something new.
In my opinion, the distribution of the control over resources among nodes of either network or hierarchy (human individuals) is much more important for the change process than interconnectedness. I would even suggest that one could come up with a formula for drastic change:
The change occurs when the share of distributed resources under the control of individuals unsatisfied with the status quo and capable of coordinating their effort is higher than the totality of resources under the control of supporters of this status quo. The enormous contemporary interconnectedness of the network mitigates the coordination of distributed resource applications. However, it is also essential that easy access to information about who supports what and how makes allegiances fluid, consequently speeding up the process of change.
The author defines this book as an expansive overview of the history of the idea of providing evidence as proof of statements in various situations when such statements define outcomes of legal processes, scientific and/or religious beliefs, and results of political competition. He describes it as based on his “own experience decades ago as a trial lawyer dealing with the law of evidence on a daily basis, followed by more than forty years of teaching, studying, and writing about the law of evidence. This book is not about law, but it draws on the law as a source of occasional wisdom and more than occasional illuminating examples.” This review includes the discussion of the concept of evidence, an analysis of testimony in the broad sense, the discussion the validity of “expert opinion,” and, finally, the evaluation of human individuals that provide testimonies, their character and methods of reasoning, which in inevitably impact truthfulness of their testimonies.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a very detailed and pretty good review of the history of prof and evidence from its earlier forms to contemporary statistical and scientific methods. I agree entirely that such discussion is very important in our time when information flow is filled with fake news and sometimes “deep fake” documentary evidence. Unfortunately, the author has a severe case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, which clearly demonstrates the use of fake evidence at the beginning of the book when the author insists that Trump’s statement about election manipulation is absolutely false. As the prove, the author provides the statements of a couple of Republican senators. In reality, nobody really knows whether the amount of election manipulation was sufficient to change an outcome. The only thing that is absolutely clear is that the elections were conducted in an unusual way with the massive change in processes due to Covid. The author inadvertently demonstrated a typical mistake when the fight for pro and contra of a statement excludes the truth of the statement’s correctness or falsity being just unknown.
My attitude is simple – there are no ways to evaluate the correctness of a great many statements about the past just because no statement could fully describe complex reality, which always includes some contradictory factors. Therefore, the only way to deal with it is just to accept the idea that the most important is forward-looking development of the processes that would make negative results much more difficult to achieve. So, for example, for elections, it should be a secret vote by the voter, whose identity is proved just before the vote. This vote should be cast using unchangeable media such as paper and in such a way that nobody could have the ability to impact this vote or know how exactly this voter voted.
Other interesting points are quasi-scientific proofs and experts. Both these methods include complex processes and statements and are therefore prone to manipulation. This problem could be handled by attaching some kind of betting average of true/false predictions of outcomes to individual experts and their specific predictions. There is excellent research on the actual results of expert predictions that demonstrated results slightly worse than random. In brief, the truth of a statement is often in the eyes of the beholder, and there is not much one can do about it except for the simple (true/false) statements about the future that could verify an expert’s competence or lack of it thereof.