Rhinoceros

——- Where is it written? ——- I recently came face to face with irrationality. I was attacked online… Called terrible things… Directly threatened. Why? I pointed out an inaccuracy. My crime was naively wandering into the world of online conspiracies, believing I could set things right with “better information.” Here’s the story: A mixed martial arts account I followed on Instagram posted a story about…

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Normalbaum

Is This Legible? You breathe in. Your hand rests on the door handle. Your first day. I can do this, you think. You push the door open and stride into the room. You make your way to your desk, shoulders back, conscious of your posture, your smile, keeping a brisk, “can do” attitude about you. Projecting confidence. You look out. They’re all spread out. Some…

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All Woods Must Fail

O! Wanderers in the shadowed landDespair not! For though dark they stand,All woods there be must end at last,And see the open sun go past:The setting sun, the rising sun,The day’s end, or the day begun.For east or west all woods must fail.J. R. R. Tolkien You wake suddenly into a room you do not recognize. This is not your bed. Not your dresser. Not…

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Monty Hall

——Should I switch, or stay?—– Let’s begin our review all the way back at the beginning, with our very first email about risk… Bad Priors. Everyone comes to situations of risk with pre-existing opinions. We all use our experiences to try and make sense of how the world works. These are our priors. Priors act as a map of the territory of reality; we survey our past experiences, build abstract…

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All In Our Heads

—What’s left to do but go to the beach?— As we come into the home stretch of our latest series of emails..(Dealing with risk, uncertainty, and how to think about the Coronavirus pandemic)… You may have noticed that I’ve been avoiding something.I’ve been completely mute about a critically important component to understanding your COVID-19 risk: How risky it actually is. There hasn’t been a single…

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Missionaries

This post was originally an email sent to the Better Questions Email List. For more like it, please sign up – it’s free. —–How do we create Common Knowledge?—– We start this week with a riddle. It’s a famous one, so no Googling…give yourself the chance to try and think it through. 🙂 Here it is as written in Terence Tao’s Blog: With this (admittedly strange) riddle we return…

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False Positive

This post was originally an email sent to the Better Questions Email List. For more like it, please sign up – it’s free. —-How scared should I be?—- For the past few weeks we’ve been discussing risk and uncertainty. Risk is a situation in which we know the odds, know the payoffs, and can plan accordingly. Uncertainty is a situation where we don’t know the odds, or are unsure about the payoffs. Nearly every difficult decision…

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No Basis

——–On what basis?——– Over the past few weeks we’ve built a system for understanding how we make decisions. First, we needed to understand that people come to problems with different priors – good and bad. Then, we needed to understand the importance of consulting the base rate.Last week, we added a wrinkle: The usefulness of the base rate depends a lot on whether it is group indexed or individually indexed.Why spend so…

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8 Months To Live

This post was originally an email sent to the Better Questions Email List. For more like it, please sign up – it’s free. ——How worried should I be that I have 8 months to live?—— So far, we’ve discussed how we make decisions involving probability: – We form beliefs about how likely certain events are based on our own experiences. – These beliefs are “Priors.” – They act…

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