He who introduces the words “infinity” or any of its derivatives (“forever” or “never” for instance) is also trying to escape discussion. Unfortunately he does not honestly admit the operational meaning of the high-flown language used to close off discussion. “Non-negotiable” is a dated term, no longer in common use, but “infinity” endures forever.
Most geniuses—especially those who lead others—prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.
This is to say, all proposed solutions and interventions will have a multitude of effects, and we must try our best to consider them in their totality.
In the end, the filters must be used wisely together. They are ways to understand reality, and cannot be divorced from one another.
We need not be a genius in every area but we should understand the big ideas of most disciplines and try to avoid fooling ourselves.
That I might investigate the subject matter of this science with the same freedom of spirit we generally use in mathematics, I have labored carefully not to mock, lament, or execrate human actions, but to understand them; and to this end I have looked upon passions such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties just as pertinent to it as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere.
The first filter through which we must interpret reality, says Hardin, is the literate filter: What do the words really mean? The key to remember is that Language is action.
The first step is to try to understand what is really being said.
Talent is always desirable, but the talent may have an unfair, even dangerous, advantage over those with less talent.
Hardin is clear on his approach to numerical fluency: The ability to count, weigh, and compare values in a general or specific way is essential to understanding the claims of experts or assessing any problem rationally:
Obviously, some numerical limits must be applied. This is the usefulness of the numerate filter. As Charlie Munger says, “Quantify, always quantify.”
Those who take the wedge (Slippery Slope) argument with the utmost seriousness act as though they think human beings are completely devoid of practical judgment.
No single filter is sufficient for reaching a reliable decision, so invidious comparisons between the three is not called for. The well-educated person uses all of them.
The literate filter asks if we understand the true intent behind the words.
Hardin begins by outlining his goal: to understand reality and understand human nature as it really is, removing premature judgment from the analysis.
Just as “literacy” is used here to mean more than merely reading and writing, so also will “numeracy” be used to mean more than measuring and counting. Examination of the origins of the sciences shows that many major discoveries were made with very little measuring and counting.
Ce qui suit est la tentative d’un homme de montrer qu’il y a plus de sagesse parmi les laïcs qu’on ne le pense généralement, et qu’il existe des méthodes assez simples pour vérifier la validité des déclarations des experts.
The goal of these mental filters is to understand reality by improving our ability to judge the statements of experts, promoters, and persuaders of all kinds. As the saying goes, we are all laymen in some field.
1. The Literate Filter
Even if we understand what is truly being said and have quantified the effects of a proposed policy or solution, it is imperative that we consider the second layer of effects or beyond. Hardin recognizes that this opens the door for potentially unlimited paralysis (the poorly understood and innumerate Butterfly Effect), which he boxes in by introducing his own version of the First Law of Ecology: We can never merely do one thing.
Glasp is a social web highlighter that people can highlight and organize quotes and thoughts from the web, and access other like-minded people’s learning.