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I’m Just Now Realizing How Stupid We Are (fool.com)
320 points by tokenadult on June 15, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

Every one of those observations sounds extremely true to me.

Regarding the first one: "changing your mind is one of the most difficult things we do" -- changing our mind is almost impossible; changing other people's is down right impossible.


- It's possible to influence people before they have made up their mind.

- It's also possible to reframe / rename / re-position a subject, so that it becomes a new category about which people don't already have an opinion. Politicians do it all the time (most people are opposed to torture, but "enhanced interrogation techniques" sound both useful and reasonable, for example). Marketers also do it, sometimes, but they should do it more.

On this last topic, this book is absolutely fantastic:


It explains why brand extension is almost always a bad idea ("Google Play", OMG!!!!), and why "7Up: the uncola" is genius.

It is possible to change peoples minds, but the trick is that you have to convince everyone around them first. Social proof is the most powerful force in the universe. It's infuriating, but the research shows us time and time again that most people simply choose the position they perceive to be most popular.

It is, incidentally, why the internet is so dangerous. It is easier now, more than ever, to surround yourself with people who confirm your beliefs ALL OF THE TIME. If we're going to make decisions socially, that's a pretty worrying state of affairs.

It is also why most meaningful change happens in generational cycles. At least that is how it seems to me.

It is also why most meaningful change happens in generational cycles

"People don't change their minds. They die, and are replaced by people with different opinions"

-- Arturo Albergati, via Paul Graham (http://www.paulgraham.com/quo.html)

(Strangely, when one searches for that quote, the first hit is Paul Graham's page; I'd like to know where exactly this was said, but couldn't find it after a quick investigation).

That sounds similar to the Max Planck quote that "science progresses one funeral at a time".

Actually, that might be paraphrased, the quote which seems more authentic according to Google is this:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it"

He learned it while studying in Florence I guess.

I found that changing your mind is heavily dependent on one's internal honesty. If you care more about the truth than about your own opinions, if you avoid being attached to your own beliefs, then it's actually not that hard to change your mind after encountering new evidence.

Actually, that's one of the main reason I frequent HN - in the comments I quite often encounter knowledgable people arguing for beliefs different than mine. By reading and sometimes participating in discussions here I get to constantly re-evaluate the reasons for what I believe and, occasionally, to change my mind.

Regarding the first one: "changing your mind is one of the most difficult things we do" -- changing our mind is almost impossible; changing other people's is down right impossible.

Eh, I did a lot of therapy. We can change our own minds. It takes work and it is hard but it is not "almost impossible."

Perhaps the second is true. If so, that would explain a lot of my frustrations. I would like to think it is not true and that changing the minds of other people is hard but not impossible.

How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one, bit the lightbulb has to want to change.

It can, actually, be quite hard. But, yeah, if you want it bad enough, it can be done.

(Also: you haz a typo)

I have found that peoples' opinions are most strongly influenced by the narratives they subconsciously construct to make sense of the world. A given fact will be seen as part of a huge trend by one person, an outlier by another, and a lie by someone else. This explains why there are some facts that are just ignored by people even though they're a big deal. For example, Ronald Reagan supported Apartheid in South Africa. People don't know how to fit this into a larger framework or pattern so it doesn't become part of the social construction of this person.

I think this explains why the NSA revelations are such a non-issue to so many people: it doesn't fit into their narrative, so it must somehow be overstated or misleading in its presentation. I think a solution to this is to try to notice your aversion or second-guessing of straightforward information. If you immediately start seeking to minimize something or think "This must be wrong", then that thing is worth deeper investigation. One must realize if a piece of information does not fit with their model of the world, it is usually an inadequacy of their model and not with the data.

If you look at the author's profile you also realize that maybe he should reflect more on what he just wrote. I am referring to his ownership of tobacco company stocks (MO and PM). Is it really a good idea to own tobacco companies even if one is amoral about investing, esp. in light of what the author said about long term thinking?

One day in high school, perhaps in 1971, I was reading the financial section of the newspaper just before math class started.

My math teacher came in, saw that I was looking at the stock tables, and said something like: "I really like Philip Morris. I've made a lot of money in that stock over the years".

Now, check out http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=MO&t=my&l=on&z=l&q=l&c=

Here are the splits in just that stock since 1974:

   2 * 2 * 2 * 4 * 3
That doesn't include the spinoff of PM and KRFT (I don't recall if shareholders participated in Miller spinoff). And there may have been more spinoffs that I can't even remember.

Now imagine how much money my math teacher's heirs would have today if they continued to hold his Philip Morris stock because they had "long term thinking".

You might be right. Maybe the long term is over in tobacco stocks. But the previous half century has sure made some people a lot of money selling products that have killed millions of other people.

> I've learned that there's a strong correlation between knowledge and humility. People who spend 10 minutes on Google studying monetary policy think they have it all figured out, while people with Ph.D.s and decades of experience throw up their hands in frustration. The more you study economics, the more you realize how little we know about it.

This is the problem with Congress making decisions about science, the internet, and the economy.

Who would you expect to do better than Congress in making those decisions, and through what process would they jointly make those decisions? (I'm genuinely curious, because I can think of three or four different ways to go in policy-making to respond to your concerns, but I think I'll understand your point better if I thoughtfully read your suggestion about different approaches to making decisions about those issues.)

I like the question you are posing.

Parent comment is interesting given this regarding the internet:

(per wikipedia)

"In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Scientific and Advanced-Technology Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1862(g), which allowed NSF to support access by the research and education communities to computer networks which were not used exclusively for research and education purposes, thus permitting NSFNET to interconnect with commercial networks.[47][48] This caused controversy within the research and education community, who were concerned commercial use of the network might lead to an Internet that was less responsive to their needs, and within the community of commercial network providers, who felt that government subsidies were giving an unfair advantage to some organizations"

Obviously Congress doesn't always get it right. Edit: This was a case where they did, right?

But a blanket "that's the problem" make no sense either.

I'm reminded of this every time I see a "man on the street" interview talk about the issue of the day in which is their opinion seems to be formed from something they overhead from someone in the coffee shop or something they read in the local paper. Because for sure we just want those people using their great data source to form policy. I mean why don't we just vote on each and every issue out there. Because ordinary people are definitely qualified to digest and come to the right conclusion. (Or better yet hey just crowdsource or wisdom of the crowds because it's the answer to everything).

Delegate to institutions populated with experts and actually listen to the advice of those experts.

I believe both modern China and fascist Italy did something like this, with a "stakeholder" model (corporatism, social and commercial groups of interest to government have a seat at the table) of governance. I'm not slyly trying to bash the idea through negative connotations, but if it's similar I wonder if we could learn from them. I can think of a few downsides, but there are upsides too.

Do you mean that congress and the executive branch should delegate? If so they largely do in the form of think tanks, policy centers and research groups like RAND. I know that there are a lot of big decisions that came from those organizations, one of the best examples of this is Team B [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_B

Then why do I keep seeing Senate committee hearings where the Congress representatives are completely uninformed and challenge the people that come to speak to them? (about climate change, how the internet works, etc.)

Because it is a show?

It's exactly this.

Congress in front of cameras is far, far different than Congress behind closed doors.

The thing people sort of gloss over for politicians is the Cantor Effect: These guys normally actually need to get re-elected, or elected in higher offices. They have to appease their base, even if that means asking stupid questions they already know the answers to.

FDR had a saying which I'm probably misquoting, "I like your idea, it's the right thing to do. I want to do it. Now go make me do it." You make politicians do stuff by convincing their base of support.

That's what regulatory agencies are, like the FCC and SEC. Anyone think they're the answer?

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

It really calls into question the input of the various "experts" who plague our public discourse.

This would be true if Congress didn't listen to the various experts on any given subject, but they do. They are drowning in expert opinions.

what decisions about science would you be referring to?

A lot of legislation cannot be approach scientifically, e.g. the right taxes rates, etc. Other legislation can be very scientific, e.g. is marijuana dangerous?

We may not be able to decide the right tax rate scientifically. But what we can do is determine very accurately the consequences of the choice. If we increase the tax rate x%, innovation will suffer y% but n less people will have to starve in the streets.

Even this is grossly overestimating the powers of current economic analysis. Many economists will give you this sort of ridiculous precision in advance, but in retrospect all they'll say is "we can't run a controlled experiment so you have to believe me that if we had done more of what I recommended, the results I promised would have occurred."

Fair enough. I should have said "what we could theorethically do" rather than "what we can do".

Other legislation can be very scientific, e.g. is marijuana dangerous?

Yet somehow, for this question, the science upon which legislators have relied has been completely wrong for many decades.

Funding, regulations, educational policy etc

climate change?

> I've learned that how you reacted to past bubbles is a good indication of how you'll act to future ones. The same people buying dot-com stocks in 1999 were buying Miami condos in 2006 and gold in 2011.

There was a saying that emerged in the first .com boom -- "You know we're in trouble when the UPS guy is giving you Internet stock tips." Maybe we should ask the UPS guy every few months what he's excited about investing in? Canary in the coal mine, as it were...

You know we're in trouble when anyone is giving you stock tips. There is zero evidence that brokers and analysts (in general) can pick stocks better than UPS drivers. Except that they are in a position to profit from others' greed and fear.

I'll agree that the "UPS guy" metric is useful, but only because it shows when a certain kind of madness has infected the rest of society. When even people who aren't paid to promulgate nonsense are blinded by their enthusiasm.

That's a paraphrase of a much older story, told about Joseph Kennedy, Sr. and a shoe-shine boy, ahead of the '29 crash.

Contrarian indicators. It's rarely the UPS guy, more likely it's an uncle/relative/a friend.

The key to acting opposite to the behavior of contrarian indicator requires knowing all their other behavior patterns.

The original saying dates back to the great depression and was likely more accurate than the UPS guys generalization. If I recall correctly I first read about it in a book called Zurich Axioms.

Looked it up found the story somewhere else. http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive...

And now they are buying bitcoin.

Be careful of glibness.

I knew the Web was going to be big when people who could not be troubled to learn what a paragraph style is in Word were hanging on my every word, taking notes, and buying books about how to install a 3rd party IP stack in Windows.

There's a difference between the UPS guy having an opinion about something and going out of his way to learn about something with a fairly steep learning curve.

Without commenting on the success rate of bitcoin itself, the money being put in bitcoin is still an order of magnitude smaller than the bubbles mentioned in GP. The USP guy, more likely than not still doesn't know about bitcoin.

> an order of magnitude smaller than the bubbles mentioned

The thing about money and markets is it all relative(%).

Whenever talking on these topics people revert to absolute($) comparisons, this is where most analysis breaks.

I am not arguing or commenting on bitcoin success, just that your mention of "order of magnitude" sounds like an absolute value.

I agree with your remark about the relative and absolute comparisons.

However, in this case, the discussion were about the "popularity", or the "reach" of bitcoin. The underlying assumption (by me) is that absolute value would strongly correlate with the number of people knowing about bitcoin, hence the absolute number remark.

There's a saying in the oilfield (many booms and busts over generations):

'when the barber is getting into the oilfield, it's time to get out'

Sadly, none of this would make any sense if I had not already learned it the hard way.

That is my experience as well. I grew up learning many clichés, proverbs and tips, but most of them didn't really mean anything to me until I experienced them first-hand.

I suppose tips like these are like uninitialized pointers - they aren't really useful until you have experiences to attach them to, but after that they are a handy way to access those experiences quickly.

I find it funnier than sad. But, I agree with you completely.

I enjoyed the article but that is a good, if unintentional, criticism of the article.

This is extremely insightful and applies to a lot of industries:

I've learned that we can't tell the difference between luck and skill. Out of millions of investors, a few will be phenomenally successful due to luck alone, yet no one is willing to admit they are one of the lucky ones.

I recall reading this statement written in different words in a few articles and essays from PG and others.


Step 0: Create 1024 different "funds".

Step 1: In half the funds (512) buy a very volatile stock. In the other half, sell the same stock short. Wait a week and close out all positions. Half the funds will now have made a lot of money. (Half will have lost the same amount of money.)

Step 2: In half the winning funds (256) buy a very volatile stock. Sell short in the other half. In a week close out the positions.

Step 3: In half the two-time winning funds (128), buy a very volatile stock, in the other half, sell short. Close out.

Steps 4-10: Repeat with half as many winning funds for each repetition.

Step 11: You now have exactly the same amount of money that you started with, minus some trading fees. But you have a remarkable fund you can point to where you made an enormous amount of money betting correctly on volatile stocks 10 times over 10 weeks. Your fund's return will be amazing and turn any investor green! Start acquiring investors who you can charge fees for depositing funds, removing funds, keeping funds invested, whatever: Profit!

Note this plan is unconventional in that there is no "Step 10b ???" before profit. Profit is assured.

10 consecutive successful investments does not just happen. Yes, this may work in attracting „investors” given the weakness in the human nature, but anyone with half-brain will be put in guard by such investment history. To pass their guard admit two or three wrong moves.

> I've learned that we can't tell the difference between luck and skill.

You should read what Warren Buffett has to say on this topic


One reasonable test is if a person consistently is "lucky", then it is more likely to be skill.

Steve Jobs, for example, made three fortunes. I suspect it is skill.

But had he not had the incredible good luck to meet Woz when he did, he would have died penniless and alone.

There are always exceptional exceptions :)

Mostly insightful, but this bit:

Those who criticize the behavior of "greedy Wall Street bankers" underestimate their tendency to do the same thing if offered an eight-figure salary.

You have to be greedy to go into Wall Street banking in the first place. Most of us deliberately didn't become bankers because we aren't motivated by greed. This makes bankers fair game for criticism.

"You have to be greedy to go into Wall Street banking in the first place."

That sounds false. It also sounds like, after assuming that, literally any thing you can think about investment bankers will automatically be against them, so I would really really make sure that what you say is true before just assuming it.


"Most of us deliberately didn't become bankers because we aren't motivated by greed."

Really? That's why most people didn't do it? I think most people would become investment bankers with eight-figure salaries, but can't.

"This makes bankers fair game for criticism."

I think everyone is fair game for criticism if they've done something wrong. It's dangerous if you have to first assume someone is a bad person to criticize them.

You have an insight (bankers are self-selected to be more greedy than average), but the author's point still stands: people underestimate their tendency to do bad things when offered enough money. He phrased it in a way that might seem to morally protect the bankers ("he who is not guilty of greed may throw the first stone..!"), but I don't think that he is trying to argue that the guilty shouldn't be punished.

"Most of us ... because we aren't motivated by greed"

History would indicate otherwise. Maybe most of us aren't dominated by our greed to the exclusion of all else / to sociopathic levels. But, most of us certainly are greedy. I suspect it's in our genes. Greed/hoarding (to a degree) being evolutionary strengths.

Some rudimentary consideration of what life is like in a tribe would suggest that greediness and hoarding are evolutionary weaknesses. If you take too much for yourself, others in the tribe get pissed off and get rid of you. If you have a tendency to hoard things, you're going to have a hard time managing a nomadic lifestyle that necessitates light enough loads to carry. Not to mention -- things rot, things break, things get lost, and if you've just used up all the natural resources around you, you're screwing yourself quite hard.

"They are artless and generous with what they have, to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it." -- Columbus describing the Arawak

"You have to be greedy to go into Wall Street banking in the first place."

Not necessarily. Our society places tremendous pressure on us to be materially successful. A lot of highly ambitious people in high school, and later in college, hear that Wall Street is the best way to become materially successful. So they go to Wall Street. Once they're hooked into the Wall Street lifestyle, mainlining money, they have a hard time giving up the habit. And they're start to justify an increasingly slippery array of behaviors to maintain their fix.

No doubt there's a proportion of all incoming, freshman analysts who are there because they're greedy. It's all about money for them. Gordon Gekko is a hero, not an antagonist. Wolf of Wall Street looks like a celebration, not a cautionary tale. Etc. But I'd bet that, for every Junior Gekko, there are two or three smart, ambitious, by-the-book kids who are following the recipe their parents, their educators, and their mentors have told them to follow.

Now, let's say you're one of those kids. You land a prestigious job at a bulge-bracket firm. You're making gobs of money. That's hard to give up. Especially because you've worked so hard, for so long, to get to where you are. So you keep climbing the ladder. As you climb, you make more money. You don't want to give that up, either. Maybe you experience a few shady or ethically questionable things along the way, but hell, you're making a shitload of cash. And deep down, you suspect that there's no functional, ethical difference between you and some middle manager at a Main Street company; the only difference is that you're doing more "sophisticated" work, and you're getting paid a lot more. The lifestyle sucks, but you've been conditioned to expect that having a life is a sucker's bet. You've traded all of that for the definition of success you've come to internalize.

The failure here isn't wholly the individual's. It's also the system's. Our society, our culture, our system teach many of our best and brightest to treat money and prestige as life's scorecards.

I don't excuse shady behavior from banks or from bankers. But I don't think most bankers are morally defective human beings. I think they're Type-A kids who do what they're told. Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil; I think one could write just as convincingly about the banality of greed. Or the institutionalization of greed. No doubt there are some genuine sociopaths on Wall Street, and perhaps in greater proportion than you'd find in other industries. But for every sociopath, you have some folks just chasing what society conditions them to chase.

You get what you incentivise... and that sort of money is one hell of an incentive, at least as far as society tells you.

No, the point stands.

Especially because you don't need to be a Wall Street banker to do just like them. They just have more power, but people should consider their actions regardless of salary.

"Most of what people worried about over the last five years -- inflation, rising interest rates, a double-dip recession, stagnant markets, Greece leaving the euro, a government default -- never occurred."

Why? Because the reason most people are worried is based on something that they've read which is often because of this:

"I've learned that journalists' need to write far exceeds the number of things that need to be written."

The root of all opinion is generally what people are exposed to and what is written by a third party (not even an expert) as opposed to what they have actually figured out independently on their own or heard from multiple experts (who may have differing opinions). In other words their bias doesn't come from experience or informed opinion but merely what they are read that others have written.

That's why polls are not as important as they look. Even if accurate they merely measure what people read in the paper, online, or see on the nightly news.

"I've learned that journalists' need to write far exceeds the number of things that need to be written. No writer can say to their boss, 'There's nothing important to write about today,' although it is the truth most days."

These words should be inscribed at the top of HN's "submit" page.

I actually disagree with this point. There are always topics that could stand to be exposed or revisited. I wish the media would keep certain topics continually in the public awareness, rather than covering them dot a while and moving on to the next shiny or scary thing (and thereby playing into the hands of those who would rather some issues be forgotten). Stuff like the progress of healthcare.gov, preliminary study results that turn out to be premature, ongoing issues like human trafficking, etc.

This is perhaps doubly true for financial news and CNBC.

...make that most news now that I think about it. I can't remember the last time I saw an article on CNN that was actionable in my life in any way. Not sure why I bother to read the news most days, although it still feels like a useful thing to do.

I watch or read the news for "gestalt". Most individual articles are not "actionable", but the aggregate over weeks or months probably is.

Unfortunately, the article's first lesson is that you probably won't change your mind quickly enough to profit from anything you see on either CNBC or CNN.

Humans became a technological species immediately at the critical point where a few percent of us could be rational and original a small percent of the time.

That was enough for knowledge to start snowballing.

In historical terms, that happened a few moments ago and we are still at the mostly-stupid stage. Before we have a chance to evolve to be smarter, technology itself will have left us in the intelligence rear view mirror.

No species lasts forever but we should feel successful for being the origin of not just the next species, but the next order of life on Earth after DNA. Self-designed life will be as profoundly smarter than we are, as multi-cellular life became more interesting than the first microbes.

This is very inspiring to me. But if for some reason, you find it depressing that our technological "children" will soon look nothing like us, there is still time to find a way to transition your own mind into that next generation. Just be prepared to change anything about your own biology that holds you back, just like to learn you need to sacrifice any beliefs that hold you back. Prepare yourself mentally now to sacrifice your biological substrate and neural continuity for your new uber intelligence in a few decades.

Thanks for the front-page love HN. I work at the Fool as a web developer. Morgan has just been sent the link to this thread. Maybe he'll chime in if there are questions.

  I've learned that we can't tell the difference between luck 
  and skill. Out of millions of investors, a few will be 
  phenomenally successful due to luck alone, yet no one is 
  willing to admit they are one of the lucky ones.
and the same goes for CEO's.

Survivor bias is a bitch.

>I've learned that strong political beliefs in either direction limit your ability to make rational decisions more than almost anything else.

Strong political beliefs in any direction, not either direction. This complaint also relies on the fictional 'rational decision about a political issue' vs. 'political decision' distinction, where your opponent is always "playing politics", but you're always simply being empirical and pragmatic.

>I've learned that people's expectations grow faster than their wealth. The country is richer than it's ever been. I don't think it's as happy as it's ever been.

Not in the median it isn't. The fact that the nation's total wealth has increased while median individual wealth has decreased is a lesson about something, but not about the bulk of people's expectations rapidly growing. What a lot of people want is what most people in the US actually had before the 80s.

>I've learned that people's expectations grow faster than their wealth. The country is richer than it's ever been. I don't think it's as happy as it's ever been.

Not in the median it isn't.

Your claim is that median wealth has in some meaningful sense decreased in the United States during my lifetime of just more than half a century. Because of various family circumstances and my own career choices, I have generally been below the United States median in income much of my working life, and have always been below the United States median in financial assets or possession of land and real property. And yet I have every reason to believe the author's claim that "The country is richer than it's ever been," and not just for the fat cats, but for me too.

For one thing, we have this newfangled Internet technology that allows you and me to have a thoughtful discussion while shattering barriers of distance. Having once lived overseas when my only affordable means of communication with my homeland was postal aerograms, I count this as a HUGE increase in wealth, which is certainly enjoyed by most at-or-just-below median people in most developed countries. (I communicate with friends and relatives from a variety of countries online every day.)

So I call baloney on your assertion. But perhaps you have evidence that will convince to change my opinion. Discussing this issue thoughtfully will also make both of us richer than we used to be, so I am all ears.

AFTER EDIT: You do make a good point that political opinions can (and do) differ along more than one dimension. There are many, many different kinds of political opinions, including many that are inconsistent with other opinions held by the same person.

From my experience when someone deems themselves above "extremist politics" they're someone who doesn't have to worry every day about the issues affecting those they're wagging their finger at. The single word "either" betrays the presumption that one can place themselves "in the center" as a rational "referee" of sorts -- to use your word, this is a "fiction." Looks like this fellow has some more to learn.

Human socialization and socially constructed systems of inequality makes it impossible to be impartial about an issue -- everyone is within the issue. For example, the rich can not fully know what livelong poverty is like. Us men can not full know what being female is like in society since birth. And so on...

For those interested in a good book about human biases and thinking, check out Seeking Wisdom From Darwin to Munger.



> I've learned that people are twice as biased as they think they are, which is precisely why biases are dangerous.

This is a bit backwards. It's more like an inverse relationship - if you don't think you have any biases you are likely to be the most biased. It's probably a factor of 2 for those who admit a level of bias, and a much greater factor for those who don't admit bias.

Well technically, there would be no multiplicative factor for those who don't admit bias, because zero times anything would be zero. Your point is nonetheless a good one.

I don't think it's true that "The country is richer than it's ever been." According to this graph, that would be in 1999, not now. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/37/Median_US...

I think the author is probably talking about total wealth, not median income; by that metric, we're richer than in 1999 (though it is less equally distributed), according to this graph: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/Graphic.png

But whether we go with total wealth or median income, really the point here is the following sentence in the article: I don't think it's as happy as it's ever been.

I think the author is taking the long view here, not comparing the present to 1999 or 2009. The claim is that despite having more wealth (by either measure) in the last, say, 20 years than at any other period in our history, we aren't happier because of it. I'm inclined to agree.

I disagree with this one: I've learned that Winston Churchill was right when he said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they've tried everything else." Congress is a basket case 99% of the time, but when things are truly at the precipice it gets things done.

The "right" thing is pretty subjective, and I would argue that if we were doing the "right" things, we could have avoided a partial government shutdown last year as Congress struggled through the debt issue. Speaks to the author's comment about short-term thinking:

I've learned that short-term thinking is at the root of most of our problems, whether it's in business, politics, investing, or work.

It's not a good sign that we are allowing ourselves to reach moments of crisis in which we are forced to make the "right" decision. What if that decision comes down to defaulting on our debt and wronging the rest of the world?

The government shutdown had nothing to do with defaulting on the US debt. That debt isn't a huge portion of the budget, it has to do with reigning in spending - the cause of the debt.

"Truly at the precipice" is subjective there.

> I've learned that short-term thinking is at the root of most of our problems

Greedy (aka "short-term thinking") algorithms provide optimal solutions for many (but not all (obviously)) problems.

It sounds like you've missed the point - yes the optimal solution short term might be one action, but sometimes losing in the short term is more optimal in the long term. Like say, a vote for socialism reduces a companies profits but retains the humanity of government in the long term (made up example obv.).

Moreover, long term solutions encompass the solution space of short term ones - so if short term thinking is required then you can choose the short-term thinking solution that optimises for the long view outcome.

Perhaps the reference to computer science was not very clear in my previous comment [1]. "Optimal solution" means the best possible (globally) over all possible dimensions including time.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greedy_algorithm

The point being is that even a short-term thinking may yield long-term benefits sometimes.

"I've learned that people's expectations grow faster than their wealth. The country is richer than it's ever been. I don't think it's as happy as it's ever been."

Greater than half the country did not participate in the supposed recovery. Check out the plunge over five years in the labor force, the unemployment rate among teenagers, blacks, hispanics, the use of food stamps, the use of ss disability, etc. Real wages haven't moved in 40 years. It's little wonder it's not an overly happy country, most people have not participated in the Fed's asset inflation party. The rich are richer than they've ever been, the poor are the poorest they've arguably been since the great depression. Not arguing the why's mind you, but there is a very good reason the country doesn't seem very happy.

> I've learned that there's a strong correlation between knowledge and humility.

It's the Dunning–Kruger effect:


I tend to agree with this but I also think that a knowledgeable person should be eager to stand his or her ground and probably will on subjects that matter dearly to them. For instance you might be able to convince a scientist of a philosophical viewpoint, but they might never budge from their stance on a scientific view point and in turn adamantly defend its idea with an almost righteous conviction (e.g. Richard Dawkins).

But I guess we should be truly happy about this effect. If the smart amongst us were brow beating us all constantly it would be very painful indeed. I know I'd be a ripe target.

No, I disagree. There's a big difference between humility and lack of self-confidence.

That's just the most extreme form. As with most things, it's a gradient.

If you know that there are things you don't know, you'll probably be more humble. If you feel overwhelmed, because there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, it might affect your confidence.

Tbh, "I've learned that changing your mind is one of the most difficult things we do. It is far easier to fool yourself into believing a falsehood than admit a mistake."

That is probably the one from which many other's stem. If you only make the same mistake a couple of times before changing your mind, you are far, far better off than everyone else because I've seen people repeat the exact same mistake dozens of times.

Tbh, I have too...which is probably why I generally assume I've made a mistake until someone tells me otherwise alot of the time. Well, except for a few things I feel strongly about that aren't simple binaries where everyone might have radically different end goals.

I've always been a big fan of Motley Fool, particularly their podcasts, and I think it's for the same reason I like this article: their contributors seem to value honesty, to point of self-deprecation, over the desire to appear superior.


Not said often, but thanks for taking the time to submit.

> I've learned that there's a strong correlation between knowledge and humility.

Although I think, arrogance is sometimes required to make people understand that it's the Right Thing.

Actually one of the things that gives me the most hope is the fact that Godwin's law is so much less frequently invoked. I think after a couple decades of being able to vomit up the first thing on our minds, many people are learning to take a more measured approach online.

I've learned that there is no reason to take everything you read as gospel.

Great lessons, for investors, business folk, developers, and actors.

Or rather, for everyone, at least those that are not economics related. My favourite one:

"I've learned that strong political beliefs in either direction limit your ability to make rational decisions more than almost anything else."

Actually you can just leave the 'political' away and it only becomes more general truth.

Yeah, pg wrote an essay about this and it's one of my favorites.


i was not at all enlightened by this article and took most of the points as basic common sense everyone should have (but unfortunately everyone does not). the fact that the author had to come to these conclusions 'over time' means he's susceptible to being just another damn fool in the first place.

"There's nothing important to write about today." Are you shitting me?

"excessive pessimism" stopped reading right there. All credibility lost.

If you enjoy reading and absorbing this kind of knowledge, I suggest reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It's a book of personal thoughts/writings/observations that Aurelius wrote while he was emperor of Rome. It's absolutely stunning how much knowledge from back then is still applicable in the modern world.


+1 for bringing this up. Might have been on HN before, but it cannot be stressed enough what a great mind he was. Especially his striving for 'good' in his writings is leaves a bitter taste in my mouth everytime I read it because I know I'm still far from being good. Well, something that can make you think like that is superb.


Been a while since I spent time with his quotations. Thank you.


Aurelius's Philosophy is timeless.

"The Wisdom of Life, by Arthur Schopenhauer" is another good wisdom book.

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