Large numbers, meta-cognition and predictable mistakes

People don’t think accurately about problems. We take shortcuts across the logical landscape. We use rules of thumb, culture, tradition and old wives tales. We guess and intuit and estimate.

Most of the time, these shortctus get us to where we’re going. Sometimes we miss a bit to the left, sometimes we miss a bit to the right. But it works out.

However, there are some patterns of thought that we keep getting wrong. Some logical shortcuts lead us off in the same wrong direction every time. Like a forward who always kicks the ball off to the left.

This is where meta-cognition comes in. It’s like a coach. It says, Buddy, you always miss to the left. Why not just aim a bit more right? Buddy starts aiming right, and he kicks a lot more goals.

Meta-cognition is thinking about thinking. It asks us to put the goggles on, and examine all the rules, biases and heuristics we use in decision-making. If we find our decision making failing in a random way, oh well. But if we find our decision-making failing in a systematic, predictable way, EUREKA! We have something we can do something about.

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Charter Cities – An Idea

Paul Romer has an idea people are calling crazy.  He was a Stanford Economics Professor, but now he’s quit to pursue full time the idea of charter cities.  Eh?

Paul Romer

Charter cities are based on the idea of charter schools.  These are schools in America outside the education system.  They are generally in poor black areas and have a ‘charter’ – a set of radically different rules.  For example they might do ten hour school days, six day weeks, compulsory uniforms.  They are like free private schools, and they have been extremely popular (59 percent have waiting lists for entry) and often successful (one meta-analysis found most studies of charter schools showed improved student outcomes).

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Dihydrogen Monoxide and the Truth.

This blog rarely advocates.  I rather present the facts.  But an alarming situation has come to my attention, and I want you to care.

Did you know that Dihydrogen Monoxide tragically kills thousands of people every year through accidental inhalation?  Awareness of this dangerous chemical compound is slowly filtering through to the general population. Continue reading Dihydrogen Monoxide and the Truth.

Hello, Aliens!

I heard the people from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence on the radio this morning. It’s not a German techno outfit. It’s a real American scientific research centre looking for intelligent life in the universe. It’s exciting. I can’t imagine the hoo-hah if they found something. It might even push Masterchef below the fold.

There could be life in the universe, for sure. But they’re dreaming if they think it will communicate with us. A few reasons:   Continue reading Hello, Aliens!


In my last job we worked with a futurologist. She was scatter-brained and Canadian and it was easy to make fun of her field. Boy, we got laughs with our Marty McFly / Doc Brown jokes. Hoverboards anybody?!

But, it’s confession time.  I am continually reminding myself of her principles when I see someone talk about what is definitely going to happen. 
Continue reading Futurology