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Some people (optimists like some economists) are confident (overconfident?) about human . They think that human can solve any problem as long as there is a need. This perception formed may be due to the industrial advancement (standard of living, science and technology, better institution) since the last few centuries. But can we attribute it solely to the human ingenuity? Why human did not achieve the great leap earlier (note that human has already been evolved to this current form since at least 50,000 BP, before the last fews centuries human history keeps showing rise and fall of the civilizations)? Some other people argue that rising of current civilization is mainly due to high EROI of fossil fuel. I cannot judge because I think it is hard to identify the root causes in an unrepeatable process like this.

While I have no plan to talk about reasons of rising of current industrial civilization in this post, it is a good example to show that how poor our knowledge be. While we can send people to the moon, we cannot eradicate war, hunger, AIDS, traffic jam; we still struggle in developing technology that can recognize people’s face un-intrusively and flexibly under natural environment like human does; or we cannot even predict how the water level of a bathtub change. There are lots of examples you can think of about what human still cannot do presently, even there is a will (e.g. forecast direction of winds that bring the volcano ash).

The most critical evolutionary constraint on human is to understand complexity (complex means difficult to understand, so a thing will not be called complex if we can understand it). For example, no one know for sure what will happen in the current Euro financial crisis. What if we let Greece bankrupt? What is the consequences (especially unintended consequences) of current decision to bail it out? We grow our civilization to this state of complexity but we don’t know how to manage it. In a world of changing faster and faster and becoming more and more interconnected (interdependence), we just realize how poor our ability to control it to achieve the vision we want.

This is my thought after reading this post:


The ultimate challenge for humanity, then, is to figure out how to make insight about complex systems evolutionarily successful.

At least, we need to recognize that we still ignorant of many things. We should be more humble. We should be more careful. We should be watchful about where our current direction leads us to be, and rethink the actual relationship between economic growth and human development. So I think the first step should be raising awareness about our poor ability to learn complexity (especially dynamic complexity).

If you think this is not an issue, then ask yourself: Are you happy? Do you feel your life is full of happiness? If not, why? Do you think you are happier than people before the industrial civilization? Or more simple question, happier than people who died before the internet has invented? You enjoy so many modern innovations, you should be much happier than them. If not, this is a sign of unhealthy development. Development should increase people’s happiness, not less. Let’s think about it.

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First of all, in this Year of Tiger, 虎 (you) wants to be a millionaire?

To me, I have no interest in being a millionaire. I just hope my income (if not sufficent in the time of difficulties) and wealth can cope with my consumption in my lifetime:
Stock and flow map of income, Wealth and consumption

So besides trying to increase my income and wealth to meet my consumption rate, I also control my consumption by spending only on the true needs.

That’s why I can be happy.

Major fishery collapsed, and I did not care about – because I was rich enough to have the remaining fish;
There were more and more wildfire, and I did not care about – because I am not living near the forest;
Some countries faced water scarcity, and I did not care about – because in my place, rainfall is more than enough;
Sea level rise is inundating river delta, island nations and coast, and I did not worry about – because I can always move to my summer house in the highland;
The high food price prolonged hunger, and I did not worry about – because my country is self-sufficient in grains;
Oil is getting expensive, and I did not worry about – because my country exports oil;
Then the world war began and epidemic outbreak – and there were no one left to help me.

The boiling frog slows to react because the changes are gradually. Something changes gradually is not salient, the skill we developed during the evolution process to select things to pay more attention. Unfortunately, overshoot symptoms are often distant in space and time, therefore often less salient.

For example, sea level rise is almost unnoticed because it is very slow. But if it is consistently rising, one day we will find ourselves need to move to higher place after more and more severe flooding occured. The increase in flood risk is the indirect outcome of sea level rise.

It is well-documented that people performed poorly in simple stock and flow task, especially when the flows information are displayed as Behavior Over Time graph, the difference between flow and stock becomes less salient. Event is more salient than process/bahaviour, which is still more salient than the underlying structure, needless to say the prevailing mindset (mental model, paradigm) which bring up the structure.

I denote such fallacy which only focus on the salient things and ignore the important but less salient things as saliency trap.

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