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How the Information Age Makes It Harder to Make Informed Choices About Risk (or Anything Else)
Just because there is more information available doesn't ensure that we make more informed choices. The modern media provide information in ways that play right into the brain's instinct to do as little work as possible, including the work of getting that information, and thinking carefully about it.
What a fantastic time we live in. Information has never been more available. The opportunity to learn has never been greater. But against all the obvious benefits of greater knowledge, a danger lurks in the modern democratization of information. The Internet Age has made more knowledge more available in ways that play right into our cognitive instincts to learn, and think, less. The enormous wealth of information that is the World Wide Web feeds us facts in ways that dumb us down as much as they smarten us up.
Here’s the problem. The human brain is lazy. It takes effort to “pay” attention, to concentrate and stay focused, to thoroughly think things through, to keep an open mind about ideas or issues about which we’ve already formed an opinion. The brain prefers to not work any harder than it has to. This lazy brain is why most of you probably won’t read to the end of this essay.
No offense taken. You can’t help it. Back when the pre-human brain was evolving, our ancestors weren’t sure when the next meal might come. Calorie counting was a matter of survival. And the brain is a calorie hog. The modern human brain, three pounds or so of your total weight, uses as much as 20% of what a resting body burns in a day…more when we are called upon to ‘pay’ attention. (Still paying attention?)
So we evolved all sorts of mental shortcuts to help us make sense of the world without thinking about things any harder than we had to…to minimize the calories we’d have to ‘pay’ to make our way through the day. These shortcuts – heuristics and biases in the nomenclature of Daniel Kahneman and others – are fine for making simple quick judgments about most things that cross our radar screens. But when it comes to carefully thinking things through, keeping an open mind, NOT jumping to conclusions and then comfortably staying with them…we can, but the brain automatically prefers to avoid that extra effort if it isn’t absolutely necessary.
Now consider how we get so much of our information in this modern media age; in short little pieces, tweets and texts and brief news reports that don’t tell us nearly all of what we need to know to be fully informed. Take some stories about risk for example. Most don’t include anything about the dose of the hazardous chemical that it would take to do you harm, or which subpopulations are more at risk and which groups of people (people like you?) aren’t at risk at all. Kind of important details, don’t you think? But then, we don’t think. We take what the infoworld feeds us and move on.
Or consider how the democratization of information has given anybody with two cents to offer a global megaphone. Fine, you might say. Democratic, we might all cheer. The more voices, the richer the discourse. Except it’s much easier for the brain to go with what it already believes than keep an open mind and think carefully about new opinions or positions or ideas. The internet allows us to seek confirmation more than information far more readily than ever.
Or consider this; if someone in Amsterdam is injured when a public pop-up toilet ‘erupts’ out of the sidewalk and hits his moped (really!) or a woman in Connecticut is tossed off a plane because her emotional support pig gets incontinent and goes running up and down the aisle (Honest!) we can hear about it, immediately, anywhere in the world. But now let’s say we hear that a new case of Ebola has been reported in America (Gotcha! NOT really.) Inundated by a flood of little bits and pieces of information flying at us nonstop from everywhere, including from all sorts of sources that are hardly the most accurate or reliable (I don’t think Twitter went to journalism school), we instinctively grab the ones that seem to matter out of the infostream, make our quick instinctive judgments about them without stopping and thinking and getting more information…and all of a sudden a few cases of a disease have a whole country excessively worried.
Statistics suggest that at this point you are among a small minority of the people who started reading this…roughly four minutes ago. Not all that long, but if you made it this far, perhaps it was long enough to see how the fabulous Age of Information we’re living in doesn’t guarantee that we can make the most informed choices about how to keep ourselves safe. The information may be out there, but it still takes work to find it, and think about it, and that takes mental exertion that our modern media world makes it easier for our innately lazy brains to avoid.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.