Laurence Gonzales on Mental Model Mistakes
Laurence Gonzales won the 2001 and 2002 National Magazine Awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors for National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Since 1970, his essays have appeared in such periodicals as Harper's, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, National Geographic Adventure, Smithsonian Air and Space, Chicago Magazine, San Francisco Magazine, and many others.
He has published a dozen books, including two award–winning collections of essays, three novels, and the book–length essay, One Zero Charlie published by Simon & Schuster. His latest book, Everyday Survival, published by W.W. Norton & Company, is available at book sellers now. His previous book, Deep Survival, is now out in paperback.
give you an example of a really bad mistake that I made using mental models. When I was a little kid, my grandmother had an ashtray that looks like a rattlesnake. It was a beautiful thing, made out of stone, and it was very realistic. And I had this model in my head of a rattlesnake that was, you know, benign, it was a harmless thing and it had these nice emotional associations with my childhood and my grandmother. And frankly, I never thought about it again. I don’t know where it went. But one day as an adult, I was hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains and I came across the ruin of a stone house and I thought, “Oh cool. I’ll look for a souvenir here. I’ll find some old tool or something to bring home with me from this ruined house in the stone rubble.” And I started searching around and then all of a sudden, lo and behold, there was my grandmother’s ashtray. I’m like, “What a miracle! My grandmother’s ashtray, how did that happen?” And I reached out to pick it up and then I saw its tongue come out. And, of course, I realized the very stupid mistake that I made because I had all these intellectual knowledge that could have prevented me from doing that. But they didn’t because I was operating on a mental model, the closeness association I had and it was stored away. I haven’t thought about it for decades, and it was my grandmother’s ashtray. So I knew, intellectually, for example, that the chances of finding my grandmother’s ashtray anywhere in the known universe were approximately zero. I knew also that I was in the mountain wilderness where rattlesnakes are really common in California. I knew that they like to poke around in stone ruins ‘cause mice live there. I knew all these stuff and it did me no good. So this is what I mean when I say smart people do stupid things. This is the type of mistake that certain scientists call an intelligent mistake because all my learning, my most important learning caused the mistake
Relying on a system of mental models can confuse associations with reality says Laurence Gonzales.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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