48: Erisology with John Nerst

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

John blogs at https://everythingstudies.com/


Will Jarvis 0:04
Hey folks, I’m William Jarvis, along with my dad, Dr. David Jarvis. I host the podcast narratives. narratives is a project exploring the ways in which the world is better than it has been the ways it is worse in the past or making a better, more definite future. I hope you enjoy it.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe. You can get on our mailing list, find show notes, transcripts, as well as videos at Nerdist podcast.com. Thanks, john. How are you doing today? I’m doing all right. How are you? Good. Good. Thanks for coming on. Our first big question is, you know, can you give us just kind of a brief bio and some of the big things you’re interested in? Yeah.

John Nerst 0:59
I’ve been blogging now for for more than five years. I mean, I’ve just realized that Time Time flies, doesn’t it? And you know why? My blog is called everything studies. And that kind of signifies that I am. I think I am anyway interested in almost everything, and especially how different things compared to each other different topics compared to each other different different fields of study and different types of knowledge. But what I’m focusing on, I think, and sort of become the brand of the blog is his disagreement, both as a process when people are disagreeing and talking about what they’re disagreeing about. And the very phenomenon that people think differently about things. They feel differently about things. They have different beliefs. And how does that work? Exactly?

Will Jarvis 1:50

John Nerst 1:51
Yeah. But I also write about many different things. Like, I have some articles about fiction about art about aesthetics. Also just released an article where I basically gushed for 1000s of words over a visual encyclopedia I had when I was a kid. That one was mostly for me, but some people liked it as well. Thanks.

Will Jarvis 2:19
That was that was a great post. And we’ll actually come back to that a little bit later in the show. But you know, how do you how do you just settle on disagreement, you know, in what was really interesting about that, and what is aerosol ology.

John Nerst 2:33
But strictly speaking is not it’s not anything at all. Because it’s just a word that I made up because I realized there was no word for really the topic that I wanted to write about. disagreement as a, as a topic of study. I mean, there’s some philosophy in there, there is rhetoric in there. There’s sociology in there, there’s psychology in there. But we don’t have a word for the knowledge for knowledge and understanding of disagreement, the way we have words for understanding of life, which is biology and understanding of the stars, which is astronomy, and so on, and so on. I wanted to use that word because I thought there should be there should be a word for the understanding of disagreement. Not necessarily as a narrow field of study, but more like something that has its own. It has its own subject in school and its own section in bookstores, that kind of thing. I wanted it to be popular understanding of this as a domain of knowledge.

Will Jarvis 3:38
That makes sense. And how did you settle in disagreement? Was that kind of like, as it always been something you’ve been thinking about? Or was there like a specific point? Or did it just kind of emerge over time?

John Nerst 3:50
I think I wrote in my first or second blog post, that the things that people disagree about probably overlaps pretty well with things that are interesting to think about. So maybe I just came to disagreement, because I’m interested in many different things. And I saw I see the difference between them. It’s not something I settled on exactly. It’s something I came to because of several different, several different things that came together. I’ve always been very much into philosophy, philosophical questions, philosophical issues, and the sort of this they’re the sort of things that philosophers discuss some of them at least. And then, of course, also, psychology. I’ve studied both the history of history of thought and psychology at university. And I’ve been fascinated about why people think differently about things. For example, by people like different music and why they like different movies and different different books, is for some reason, really, really fascinating to me. And I think that relates quite strongly also to why people have different opinions about politics, social life, philosophical questions, scientific questions, things like that. I think that’s all connected. And that’s why that’s why I think, basically all my interests can come together under the umbrella of disagreement. And of course, also, I’ve been addicted to reading, when forums was a bigger thing than they are today. Now everything is on social, like social media. But when phones used to be a big thing, I was kind of addicted to reading discussions. And I got familiar with how people used to misunderstand each other deliberately, by accident, or semi deliberately. And I just got aware of these patterns.

Will Jarvis 5:46
Interesting, interesting. I, I do wonder, what do you think, you know, people disagree. They have different preferences about you know, let’s say just art like art in general. Do you think that’s, like some genetic inbuilt difference people have? You know, just some people are just predisposed to that? Or is there? Or do we copy high status people within our groups? And then that becomes what we’re interested in and kind of differentiates us? Or is it something else or everything all together?

John Nerst 6:15
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s probably a little of each. Gotcha. No, well, my my wife just said to me, when we were having a discussion about something, that I believe that everything is innate, where at least she thinks that I believe that everything is innate. I don’t exactly think that. I do think that innate, things are almost always in some way relevant even if it’s very, very indirect. Because I think like, like inborn personality, difference differences, they don’t like, decide what we what kind of music we like, but they probably do affect how our sort of emotional system works, how we are we what what sort of feelings were, were more susceptible to some sort of thing about what we like and that will interact with other things in our environment, and in our experience to produce things like taste and music. Like, I remember the first time. I mean, there’s some there’s obviously something for habits, but it’s also not just habit, there are things I hear many times and I don’t like them. But the first time I heard I’ve actually heard it described the first time before hearing it in get an accurate the book by Douglas Hofstadter. He described how the sea see if I can get it right here that did jig from box, French sweet number five, he had described how it worked with a counterpoint and everything. And when the first time I listened to it, I thought I was gonna listen to it to see if I could understand what he was saying. And the first time I listened to it, it just sounded perfect to me. I love that for the first time. And that that’s not something that I have gotten used to it was it’s quite different from most music you hear today. But that was just something that went straight into my brain. And I think there’s something something there that just means that, you know, you’re, you’re just predisposed to something things.

Will Jarvis 8:27
Devil, that’s a really good example where you know, first time you’re supposed to be like, wow, like this. This is it. This is this is really, this is good. And this aligns with my preferences really well.

John Nerst 8:36
Yeah, it’s like a lock and key, which I found really interesting. I’m sorry that my daughters don’t seem to share this. distaste, whenever whenever they hear some instrumental music amount that you say, Now, take it away, it’s boring. Try to get them to listen for like 10 seconds, and you just want

Quinn Lewandowski 8:55
Yeah, my taste and literature and fiction, and even nonfiction aligns really well with my parents. And I’ve just given up on thinking what my taste in music is predictive of their tastes and music tell. I was gonna say when you Bri out that list of things, people have different tastes about that one, there’s always seemed like a bit of an odd one out to me because I can’t get in my personal life. I can’t get to correlate that seems so intuitive. They shut?

John Nerst 9:26
Yeah, I mean, I don’t necessarily think that there’s a simple relationship between what you like and what your parents like. I mean, sometimes things, you know, things, things run in families. But I think it’s usually a lot more complicated than that. You You throw all these kinds of ingredients into a big pot and you you boil it and you add spices and whatever and you don’t know what comes out and the end product. A human being it’s like, it’s like a dish. It’s it’s a matter of what ingredients you put in and it’s a matter of how you prepare it. And it’s not just one of the one of the two but you can get, you can change ingredients quite a lot depending on how you prepare them. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 10:06
I think that’s a good, that’s a really good way to model it. JOHN,

John Nerst 10:11
I’ve been going to I’ve been I’ve been thinking I’m going to write an article about that for like six years. Any day now I’m going to do it.

Unknown Speaker 10:18
Excellent. I love it.

Will Jarvis 10:22
JOHN, what are some of the weirdest things that people would not expect that you found, you know, studying disagreement?

John Nerst 10:32
Yeah, weirder things. I don’t know exactly about weirder things. One, one thing that sort of surprised me that I kind of resigned myself to by reading other things and looking at observations is, I’ve always been curious about when people look, it’s always irritated me a lot when I see people misrepresenting others, like these people think that and like, and I’m always like, No, no, they don’t think that. And if, if you said that to them, they would not agree that they think what you say they think. So why are you saying something about other people that aren’t true that they wouldn’t agree with? And I always wonder, like, do people do that with full intent? I’m going to misrepresent these people. Or is it just some kind of mistake? Do you actually believe that it’s true, and you’re just telling the truth. But I remember after reading, reading the elephant in the brain by Robin Hanson and Kevin, similar, you’re nodding. So I guess a great

Will Jarvis 11:36
book, too. It’s really good

John Nerst 11:38
about how much how much of what we do is unconscious, social maneuvering, more or less. And we do this and our feelings is very much our feelings and intuitive reactions to things are very much geared up to produce actions on our part that will help us socially. But we won’t necessarily be aware of that, because our conscious mind is perhaps more a press secretary than air than a CEO of of the capital of the firm. That is, that is our mind. And I was I keep thinking about that. Because I’ve been writing before. I mean, years before that, an article about the phrase war on Christmas, I’m making air quotes now. But you won’t see that in a podcast, but I am. And how people sort of interpreted as meaning different things, depending on whether they wanted it to be true or not. And I kind of realized, together with, with what has an assembler said in that book, I came to believe that people make these kinds of interpretations of ambiguous, ambiguous statements. And most statements are much more ambiguous than we think they are. We think lots of things have straightforward meanings. But but usually they don’t especially especially very abstract and loaded, things like that. So people interpret what these ambiguous statements mean. And we do it in the way that sort of is most advantages to our own point. If we don’t like somebody, and we don’t like what they have to say that we interpret whatever they say, in a way that is wrong and unreasonable. And then we think to ourselves that we disagree with them, because they’re wrong and unreasonable. When there is agreement, or the dislike, probably probably comes before. So I guess what surprised me a little bit, or what I found explains a lot is that a lot of the time where we miss represent other people we are not doing, we’re not doing it on purpose. But we’re also not doing it by accident. And the only way to model this, and I did this in an article called the Prince and the figurehead is that we have different or different actors in our head, we’re not a unified mind. And it’s like, we have this sleazy advisor that kind of feeds us propaganda. that’s meant to, you know, make us feel like we’re just doing the right thing. And we’re just being honest, but we’re also kind of stacking the deck in our social favor. So that that allows, that allows our, our conscious self to not have to deal with the dirty work. And then instead, we have other kind of unconscious parts of our minds that do that do that. It’s interesting, because before I never, I’ve been thinking for a long time about how the mind is structured and, you know, there’s feelings and then there is the rational mind and so forth. And I never thought that the unconscious mind could do anything complicated. I just thought it could do like, you know, animalistic drives, appetites, that sort of thing. But the elephant in the brain can convinced me that the unconscious mind could go could do complicated and sophisticated strategic calculations without our being without us being aware of it. And I think that’s a huge factor in in people disagreeing with each other, or the process of disagreement specifically.

Will Jarvis 15:20
It makes a lot of sense. And it explains a lot like what’s going on when you know, people, a lot of times when they’re disagreeing, they’re signaling in group affiliation. And then like you said, that that is a really good insight that your unconscious mind is guiding you strategically to toward the outcome, that would be more beneficial to you.

John Nerst 15:38
Yeah. And we automatically think that whatever interpretation of something pops into our head, that’s that’s the true one, that’s the right one. And we don’t even see the other ones, that that process happens before conscious awareness, I think, I think there was a comment, either on the blog or on Twitter or something when somebody linked this, or connected this to a study of professional chess players, which is kind of interesting. The professional chess parents are their chess experts. And I read somewhere that there’s a process when you get better at chess, when in the first, you know, in the beginning, you have to actually see you have to think about what moves are legal. Right, as you get better, you just don’t see the illegal moves, you just see, you know, what you can do with the, with the pieces. And eventually, as you get as you become an expert, you don’t even see like the bad moves. You feel like the only possible moves are the good moves. Interesting. And this person who said this, to me said, there’s probably something something similar here. As you get get get a you become an adult and you become good at arguing you only see the interpretations that are beneficial to your own, to your own side, your own point of view.

Will Jarvis 16:55
Maybe just start pulling them off the table. And then like the MSA, that’s Yeah, something like that. Yeah. How does one, you know, consciously break out of that? Is it even possible at some level?

John Nerst 17:08
I think so. I think so. I’ve gotten kind of obsessive about that. I look at something. And somebody might say, look at what this person is saying like, Oh, well, you could see that that way, or you can see it that way. We really depends on what you mean by that. And so on, I do that I do that. While I think it would be good. If other people did that. More. I don’t know if I can recommend it personally. Because, you know, it’s a lot of fun to just, you know, feel like part of the group. But instead, I feel I have to twist and turn and examine everything anybody says and see if like what possible criticism there are and how it could be true or not true or so and so forth. So it’s, it’s harder to get swept up in like community spirit.

Will Jarvis 17:59
Right? You don’t get the you know, where the team flag or whatever?

John Nerst 18:05
Yeah. Oh, well, is this really true? I kind of thing. Definitely. But yeah, I think you should do you should try to exercise that muscle in the sense that you should try to reinterpret something and see how could you see it in another way. I mean, I’ve got this other post that I’ve been working on for like years, where I sketched out, you know, like, a curriculum for how to practice making certain understand and making understanding of disagreements like second nature. And one. One thing I would make part of that is to take some story, like a news story, or whatever, with somebody looks, you know, when somebody looks to be the clear villain, and you try to concoct in your head, some sort of some sort of scenario or story where that person looks sympathetic, you know, try to make an effort to turn this around. How can you make this person sympathetic? Because everybody is sympathetic in their own head. Right? Now, everybody thinks they’re their, you know, they’re the good guy. And if you can’t understand what it feels like, for somebody you think is wrong. To be right, then you don’t really understand them.

Will Jarvis 19:19
is a lot of what’s going on. When people you know, misrepresent or just, like assume a lot of things we’ve been talking about, is it just like a lack of theory of mine? So it’s like I like I’m not understanding that, you know, john, like, you have your own mind. And you know, you’re thinking these things, and you’re also trying to optimize and be the best person you can be given the constraints.

John Nerst 19:42
Yeah, I think I think there’s there’s a lack of theory of mind in a such as it’s a lack of explicit theory of mind. I think. For a lot of the time, we just assume that other people are just like us and we were and they you The way we would react and when they don’t we think there’s something wrong with them. I mean that they’re being that they’re being dishonest or that they’re lying or that they’re just wrong, or something. And we cannot really understand often that other people are simply different in what background beliefs, they have what what things they want to focus on what they think is the most important, or what they assume what, what kind of frameworks they use to interpret what other people say, because there’s a lot of just a simple a lot of symbolic implications and a lot of things that people say, and we don’t understand quite what other people with other people mean objectives. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but there’s this understanding, like when you go to a different country, you understand that there might be cultural shocks around if you’re, if you’re, if you’re a competent traveler, you understand that people might behave in ways you don’t quite understand. Because standards are different. Or people may interpret your actions in ways that you don’t intend. Because cultural differences, I think we should take some of that mindset and apply it more in our everyday interactions, I think that will be that will be useful. Because I think I’ve said this in some blog posts or other that individual people are in ways, like different cultures. Because compared to say, 100 years ago, or even more, we’re not growing up in tight knit groups, and we’re not exposed to the same thing, or even like a knowledge of 100 years ago, maybe 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, we’re not exposed to the same things, we’re exposed to very, very different things. And that builds up to you can say that we live in different worlds, not literally but you know, depends on what you mean by worlds of course, but I’m not gonna go. But you know, just that that kind of care and, and special understanding that you that you that you keep in mind if you if you’re a competent traveler, and you go to another country that I’m not sure how other people are going to see what I do. And I’m going to be a little extra careful when I’m traveling, but other people do as well. Yeah, that’s a mindset we should adopt a little more.

Will Jarvis 22:19
Definitely in it, it definitely seems like people underrate how different other people’s experiences and preferences are to their to their own. For whatever reason. Yeah, mental shortcut.

John Nerst 22:30
I think a lot of people understand that if you if you ask explicitly. But there’s a big difference between understanding something if you ask and you’re keeping it active in your mind. To have that idea. That makes it’s, you know, having that idea of making itself heard when it’s relevant, as opposed to just being there when it’s when it’s called upon. You see the difference? What I mean?

Will Jarvis 22:58
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Like, truly, truly embodying it and understanding it is different from just like, Oh, yeah, like, like, rationally thought through it that that makes sense. Yeah.

John Nerst 23:08
It’s like, it’s like people. If you ask people, should we divide people into us? And them? They will say no. And then they’ll do it.

Will Jarvis 23:16
Right? Basically. Bad idea. Yeah. Don’t anyway. Well, but coin, did you have a question?

Quinn Lewandowski 23:28
No, I was just occurred to me, you could phrase it as there’s a difference between knowledge which actively filters are incoming perceptions when we synthesize them into thoughts and knowledge that you kind of you put in a drawer and you can take it out who really need it, but usually, it’s not playing an active role. But think let’s just what you were already saying. So it’s just me rephrasing things in my head.

John Nerst 23:54
Yeah, that’s a that’s also one of those posts, I plan on writing sometime. There’s a difference between ideas that are like active, and ideas that aren’t. And we think, I don’t know, I think we think pretty bad in general, making ideas active in that way in that they know when to assert themselves. I keep I keep being appalled of how the way we teach kids like math for 10 years. And they know how to do certain procedures. But then adults often seem to like even the most basic mathematical understanding, because it somehow hasn’t made itself into an active part of the mind to think of things in those terms. I always do that. And I can’t really imagine what it’s like to not easily think of things in mathematical terms, but because I’m studying a lot of math. And I think that’s very useful. But if we, if we can, you know, put kids through 10 years of it in school and it still doesn’t stick in that way. How are we going to be able to, you know inculcate ideas like, well don’t divide people, doesn’t them be fair to other people? You know, don’t assume that you you know too much, you know, people are different ideas like that, how are we going to get those to become like, active, instead of just, you know, being there on file to take out when you want to when you want to look good.

Quinn Lewandowski 25:23
It would flatter my ideological preconceptions. But I think it’s also facially plausible, that the schooling may in fact be harmful. That it teaches them that necessitates even people who can’t get conceptual aid to carry out the steps and so they internalize that as a walled off compartmentalize thing that you do when some authority figure forces you to do it. I’m very convinced that at least in theory, schooling can be actively destructive towards an individual’s attempt to understand the things that are nominally being taught

John Nerst 26:05
that, yeah, yeah, probably I’ve been somewhat skeptical about what good school does as well. But we come back to the thing here about people being different, I think some people really need the structure of school, while other people might learn better on their own. And it’s really hard to know that this is a one size fits all model is probably a disaster. But if we move away from it much more than we have, then we’re also opening this giant can of worms in so many ways. Yeah. A lot of stray dogs. Yeah. Don’t Don’t ask me to reform schooling.

Will Jarvis 26:52
JOHN, what is the call the coupling and why is it important? Oh, dear, we might not have enough time.

John Nerst 27:01
Oh, do how far are we going? Well, like okay. Yeah, the coupling is just an idea I had. It’s just, it was just an afterthought, that I wrote this really long article about, about a fight or disagreement, an argument. A spat, between Sam Harris and Ezra Klein, about basically the heritability of intelligence and about race and about, you know, all the most controversial things you can imagine. And when I finished that piece, just a few days before, I had read a blog post, on a blog called droz pocket that talks about cognitive decoupling, that comes from from I think it’s coined by a psychologist called Keith stanovich. Who says that some people are better at, like abstracting a problem from reality and treating it like a formal exercise. Like it’s math rather than something that exists in reality. And something where you have to take everything that is real into account. As opposed to if you decouple, you will just, you know, remove all the real contexts and practical difficulties and you know, ambiguities and just treat it as a kind of formal exercise, like a typical math problem. That’s something that he studied. And then this blog post that I read, I think, I think she was using the author, she was using quotes from Sylvia Plath, the bell jar, about how he had found in school, the, like the sterile abstractions, and physics, she kind of hated them, and loved the sensory fullness of biology instead. And I had that in mind. When I finished that the article about about heroism Klein. So I, I added a section at the end, where I said, maybe this has something to do with the coupling, maybe the argument that they were having was partly about whether you can study scientists, you know, controversial, scientific issues, in isolation, and if you could judge them on truly, you know, scientific merits or if they had to be if you have to contextualize them historically and politically, in order to be able to evaluate them there was there was basically a big part of their of their argument. And I thought maybe this has something to do with the coupling, maybe people who like this sort of for like formal abstraction and are more prone to doing that. Maybe they’re more prone to thinking that scientific issues should be studied without any sort of without making any any reference to politics or it being basically irrelevant to any scientific question? So yeah, that was a, that was an afterthought, I thought maybe it has something to do with this. But it became really, it became really popular this idea, it kind of escaped, escaped from this little sphere together with this article who also became really popular. And people were using it, sometimes as a weapon against each other, which I don’t like and don’t approve of. And there were parts of these, this article that explained this had been like, quoted a number of times, and I was kind of a little uncomfortable, because I didn’t think through these the exact wording. So, you know, I didn’t think them through so much, because my blog wasn’t very big back then. So I didn’t really care that much. And it feels like I’m overstating my case a little bit. And now people have just taken it and run with it. And now basically, it means like in an in Twitter discourse on that kind of stuff, it just means. It basically means people who think politics should be relevant to controversial scientific questions or whether it shouldn’t. And that’s quite different from what stanovich meant. And it’s quite different from many other interpretations. So I don’t know what the coupling means. That’s the short answer. You can it’s a whole family of things. Really. That was long, sorry, I just had us go. Tell this whole story. There were,

Quinn Lewandowski 31:36
um, I think, I don’t know if it matters. There were multiple points of entry, at least into the subculture. Like when you wrote yours, and I read, and I really liked it. Um, I already had the term and I got from Sarah constant. And I think there’s substantial overlap and your reader. So I don’t know.

John Nerst 32:01
Yeah, you’re right. I think I think I read call center and call center and quoted, dropsy erode trust bucket, and she quoted the Keith stanovich. Yeah, I think that’s, that’s the line. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 32:15
It’s quite interesting. I, you know, the concept itself. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a really powerful tool just for thinking about, you know, disagreements, especially in the political realm, the scientific realm. When controversies come up, you know, are we arguing about whether it’s okay, just abstract things away from the political or not?

John Nerst 32:37
Yeah, it’s interesting, because I said, the, like, decoupling has a whole family of meanings. And this, this is the one you know, politics and science is irrelevant or not. That one’s the most explosive in terms of, you know, controversy and stuff. But actually think this, the difference between I don’t know how to say this exactly. But the difference between the abstract and the formal, on the one hand, you know, the, like, the perfectly formerly exact like, like program code, in comparison to the vague. And the sensory. On the other hand, I think that’s a really, really, really important, important division in how to think about things. And it’s very important for what what sort of disciplines people like to work in, quite affects, it affects people. Quite a lot, I think. But this political interpretation is probably one of the more peripheral ones. But it’s the one that’s taken over the whole word.

Will Jarvis 33:46
It’s quite vivid. Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 33:49
I sent Um, I think I actually sent your article to a professor I had in college, and was able to by introducing the term, I think she understood it in the more general sense, and you throw it in the more general sense. I mean, I think you quote stanovich I’m not sure, I think. And that was actually a really useful concept for that relationship. Being able to talk about that with her it was I think that was just at least one instance, where it wasn’t anything close to a weapon, and it was positive some communication that probably wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Because she was a philosophy professor. So when I was going through my reactions to the text we were reading I was able to say, Okay, well this might be part of it. And it was a way to talk concretely about that and make explicit and then consider Okay, well is that then, anyway, I on my list of things to thank you for Oh,

John Nerst 35:00
Appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I was just Yeah, I was just thinking,

I’m, I’m almost aware that when I think something is important or something is really insightful, it reflects quite a lot on, on me when I think something is, oh, it’s really important that people are this way or that way. It’s usually because I am one of those ways. Probably, there are probably a lot of ways that people differ that I don’t quite understand, because I’m sort of in the middle. Yeah. So when it comes to this, I have really, I have understood this tendency in myself to really enjoy the kind of tasks where you can just really sharply divide what is part of the task and what is not. Like, this is a closed system, I have perfect information about the system. And I can analyze every little piece of it. That is somehow really, really rewarding to me and the opposite, where I really don’t know at all what is relevant and what is not. And I can’t get an overview of the whole thing. It’s very stressful to me, I noticed that when I have to do it in my job, it’s stressful. So in that way, I am very much that type. And I think it also reflects on how you like to write, because I’m really, I noticed that when I cannot make something like perfectly stringent. When I reason I can show that this is exactly this is exactly right. I feel the need to say, you know, to, to hedge and say that I don’t know, it might be this way or something like that what other people can be really, really confident about things they shouldn’t be confident about. And while I think they shouldn’t be I kind of an envious of the of the rhetorical capacity of some people can just be, you know, forceful and stylish. When saying things that are not as obviously true as like they make it sound. Because there’s there’s some kind of aesthetic beauty in that. But unless it’s perfect, I can’t really act. I can’t really act that way. Yeah, you recognize you recognize this? You understand what I’m talking about it?

Quinn Lewandowski 37:13
Very strong. Okay, great.

Will Jarvis 37:18
Yeah, it does seem like some people are able to be more confident with less, while being less sure something.

John Nerst 37:29
Yeah, yeah, maybe, or maybe I’m just second guessing myself all the time, unless I can, you know, do something with mathematical precision. And I can feel confident that this is correct. Or at least this is correct, given these, given these assumptions in the beginning. That’s the sort of the sort of things you can you can feel certain about. And that’s also why I tried to write things that under the heading of this is not certain. This is just what I think this is probably a reflection of how my mind works. You know, take this whatever way you like, read with caution weed with responsibility, or whatever you’d say. So yeah, it’s, therefore it’s a little Ireland freaked out if people read stuff and take data, right and take it very seriously. There’s always a little scary, because I don’t I can always say that this is this is true. It’s always speculation.

Will Jarvis 38:26
Got it? Got it. I want to shift a little bit away from disagreement for a minute, you know, you read a little bit about this read a cinder block. How important is the shift to agriculture for humanity above like that, you know, the obvious, like, maybe excess calories, allows us to kind of escape some Malthusian trap.

John Nerst 38:48
Yeah, that is a shift. It’s a shift from previous topic. Yeah. This isn’t, this isn’t my area of expertise, or, or anything like that. I just, I mean, obviously, this shifted to agriculture. It, it made everything it made civilization as a whole. And it made, I assume, bigger, bigger societies. And it possibly made certain kinds of disagreement, if we’re going back to that made it possible by making societies big enough that not everybody knew everybody. And not everybody was in sync that way and had the same experiences. But it’s almost too big a question. I mean, yes. The shift to agriculture changed everything. It created everything about what we know about human civilization. So I don’t know what to say about you know, yeah, I don’t know what to say about it except everything. If you could narrow down the stage and I might have something I might have something more interesting.

Will Jarvis 39:52
Definitely. Quiet Any thoughts?

Quinn Lewandowski 39:55
I’m thinking of Robin Hanson’s elephant in the brain came up earlier. I know He sees that as one of the sort of her differences, you know, you are different that that’s upstream of love, but specific distinctions where he has this mild foragers versus farmers mind says more like the foragers and more like with farmers. And I have some, I at least I have that mentally mark is an interesting theory. I never disregard Hansen lightly. But, um, it certainly seems like it would create a lot of disagreement. And you know, the population expansion would create a lot disagreement. And people not mentally adjusting for the population expansion. I still read forums, and I’ve seen somebody in the last 24 hours, who, by their own account, and I believe, couldn’t believe that someone else had never seen people saying x. And for my part, I do believe the other person had never seen people saying x because you know, aironet, bubbles totally facilitate that. But I also believe that they couldn’t believe it, because they had seen lots of people saying, that makes total sense. If you’re mentally adapted to something like the ancestral environment, or hunter gatherer bands, where everyone shares the same social context. Yeah, we don’t have that. And then people have adapted to the fact that we don’t. But that’s all very loose. jumbled.

John Nerst 41:35
Yeah, yeah, no, I understand. I think you could say, there are, I mean, of course, the agricultural revolution changed, it changed everything. But it changed us in some specific ways that I think you’re alluding to, which is farmer versus forger. foragers, you know, they have a certain lifestyle, but if you’re, if you’re farming, you have to have a different kind of, you know, long term outlook, you have to have self discipline, you have to be able to do, you know, hard, boring work in ways that I think foraging and hunting isn’t boring, exactly, to people I don’t think it is, I think we kind of adapted to doing that without getting bored. Yeah, while doing backbreaking agricultural labor is you know, both tough and tough and boring. And it requires, you know, certain things of us that aren’t quite natural, and so does with modern modern society, something I’ve been thinking a lot about is how modern society forces us to basically share a community with strangers, you know, we interact with strangers, and we do it through the market. But traditionally, we, you know, in, like, in the, in the human, you know, origin environment, we didn’t interact with strangers that much, I mean, maybe sometimes, but for, for the most part, we are interacted with only with people we know. And everybody had a reputation, you know, if they were trustworthy, whatever good at what they could offer you, and so forth. And things like, who had social credit, who was considered to be valuable to the group and who wasn’t considered to be valuable to the group, that’s something that everybody just kept track on in their heads. But in, in modern societies, we can’t do that, because there’s just too many of us. So instead, we use formalized stuff to keep track of this like currency. And that inevitably means that the social credit that happens with currency, it doesn’t match the way we feel that people should have the social credit, I mean, in a small group, social credit, then who is who is considered valuable is judged by you know what people think. And in modern society, we still want to do that, we still want to see what kind of person is valuable, and what kind of person isn’t. And then we also have this formalized currency system that assign people a kind of social credit, you know, this person has contributed, so this person can take stuff out of the, you know, out of the common pool of production. So there, because we have this, this big, these big societies there, there are two different systems that kind of come in to to kind of clash with each other. And I think a lot of a lot of the big political divides we have is how to deal with this. How to deal with this, this contrast, because I think I read the philosopher Joseph Heath on, on the appeal of socialism. And he, he discussed some paper that somebody has written about how a socialist system would work. And he concluded that it was very, very similar to how market based systems work, but the core difference was that people were surprised to care about the community as a whole, you will keep you will keep track of everybody’s contributions. But it was supposed to be the motivation was supposed to be to care for the community as a whole? Well, in a market system, you’re, you know, in the, in the Adam Smith sense, you do it for yourself interests. And I think that, you know, in, in like, like an ancestral system or like a pre modern system where you know, people

we don’t really have that kind of transactional, transaction latitude. Like, I give you this, and you give me that, and then we go our separate ways. Instead, you build relationships. And I think, for some more than others, but everyone to a certain degree, thinks that these these market transactions that we have today in a currency based system, it it lacks something because it doesn’t have the social connection that we’re supposed to that we think exchange is supposed to be it’s supposed to be in that kind of context, and it’s not. And I think some people find it very, very wrong somehow. And other people find it less wrong. Oh, that was a long one. Did you follow me?

Quinn Lewandowski 46:19
That was a really interesting one. Um, I think I probably, I’ll take some time to digest it. But I didn’t have that framework. And that makes sense. I think that fits with a lot of things.

John Nerst 46:33
Yeah, I think I noticed and I think I wrote in a footnote somewhere once and I thought, Oh, it’s gonna I’m gonna write a post of that sometimes. But then again, I have like, 100 100 outlines for posts. I mean, literally, like 100. But yeah, I think for some, the whole idea of transactions is, like in personal transactions, arm’s length transactions. It’s just wrong. It feels wrong straight up wrong. I think so. Yeah. And I can I can feel that as well. But I’m, I’m kind of low on the scale. I’m not I don’t find it offensive, or anything. I just realize that it can feel wrong. That you’re not in a like in a social relationship with anyone you have exchanges with.

Will Jarvis 47:10
Definitely. Yeah, I think that really matters a lot. And like that, even that, even though the game theory side of things, repeated games, you know, it’s, it really matters to engender trust, and things like that, where if it’s one off, you know, what’s the saying you can screw anybody once? You know, it’s like, that really does matter. before we let you go, john, we got a couple of overrated or underrated. If this if you’re available, so I’ll just throw

John Nerst 47:38
them out. Okay, I’m gonna warn you, I’m probably not gonna give a simple answer. That’s, that’s all good.

Will Jarvis 47:45
We’ll get to what we get to. Yeah. Okay. overrated or underrated. The Eurovision contest?

John Nerst 47:53
Yeah. I’ve been writing about that. Should I expect any of the listeners to know even know what that is? Oh, that’s actually a good point. I

Will Jarvis 48:03
got exposed to it early in college. So I, I, yeah, probably not. Actually, I didn’t think about that.

John Nerst 48:09
It’s like, well, it’s an annual, an annual competition between music acts representing various countries in Europe to come together for this big live show and live voting for a winner, you know, who’s the who’s the best, once a year. And it’s not the artists that competing, it’s the song. So there’s one song that wins every year. And what’s most appealing to me about it is that it’s been going on for, like, 65 years. It was It started in 1956. And it’s basically Yeah, it’s happened every year, except for 2020. It was cancelled because of because of COVID. But it’s been going on for for that long. And it’s so interesting, because you can see the whole the whole history and life of television, in this contest. And, and there’s game theory and there lots, there’s lots and lots of numbers. And there’s politics, and there’s, oh, you know, there’s so much there’s so much history and numbers and stuff to to look into it. So so I really love it. And then there are then there’s a completely different different aspect of it. That’s, that’s like you know, crazy staging, gimmicks, flamboyant costumes, you know, anything to grab people’s attention, because you need to grab people’s attention, if you want to win and so forth. So I’ve been a fan of this since I was 12 or something. And I I didn’t get into it so much like five or 10 years ago, but now I’m back and I’m a huge fan. So while I wouldn’t say it’s underrated, it’s a it’s a huge deal. At least it is in in Europe and where I come from, I wouldn’t say it’s, I wouldn’t say it’s underrated that way, but a lot of people look down on it. So in that in that sense I would say it’s underrated. I love it. I

Will Jarvis 50:03
love it. Wikipedia overrated or underrated?

John Nerst 50:10
It probably was underrated like 10 or 15 years ago. Yeah. But no, it’s probably recognized as being the, you know, the default source for any kind of information. I think people are probably right when you say it’s, it’s not reliable when it comes to a controversial subject sometimes I don’t know, I haven’t done the due diligence on that to say anything definite. But when it comes to just reference information, it’s unbeatable. So I don’t think I think it’s probably properly rated right now. But it used to be underrated.

Will Jarvis 50:44
Like, Infinite Jest, overrated or underrated? Oh, yeah. That one? Yeah. really tough one.

John Nerst 50:51
Yeah. It was I read that wrote a review of it. And I did not really care for it in that I didn’t. I didn’t like reading it. Yeah. But I have it has stuck with me. And stuck with me for a long time. And I mean, I’m thinking about it. I’m not so sure. I’m thinking so much about the actual story, more than I’m thinking about the book and the experience of reading it. So in that way, it’s a very, very postmodern book in that it’s about it’s about itself. In a way, it’s self referential is that in that it is almost about the experience of reading it than it is about anything specific. I mean, it has it has some interesting themes. But it’s also buried in so much that doesn’t feel necessary. Or any, maybe it maybe I get it if I read it, like two or three more times. But that sounds like a lot of opposition throughout other books to read.

Will Jarvis 51:51
Absolutely. specialization overrated or underrated?

John Nerst 51:56
Oh, yeah. I’ve been thinking a lot about this one. Oh, do I really have to pick one? It’s probably I think, I think I’d have to pick underrated. That might be might be a little a little weird to hear from me, considering I describe myself as a generalist, and I’m almost a pathological generalist. But I think, yeah, this is I think we should divide. Yeah, I think we should divide tasks are happening, perhaps even more than we then we do? No, I’m just thinking of things like, people used to have secretaries that did the administration. And people do that themselves. And they send 100 emails every day, and they get interrupted 300 times. And that sort of thing. I mean, my job involves probably doing like, hundreds of individual small tasks every, you know, every day. And that’s, that seems that seems inefficient. It seems it doesn’t help. Yeah. So that’s what I was thinking about when you said specialization. In that case, I think we should have more, more specialization in that way. Like, people like doctors and teachers, they should be basically relieved of all their administrative tasks, and just focus on what they’re good at. So in that sense, I said, I think people should be should focus much more on what they’re what they’re good at. And be, they should have the possibility to do that. Yeah. But then we should also have some people who specializes in generalism and spend this specific intersection of specific tasks. It’s good,

Will Jarvis 53:31
that’s good. I like it. Well, john, thank you for coming on. My pleasure. Do you have any parting thoughts? And where can people find your blog?

John Nerst 53:44
parting thoughts? No, I think I’ve been sharing enough thoughts for the last hour. And my blog is everything studies.com you can probably find me on Twitter, if you’d like which is every studies.com because everything studies is too long. Apparently for Twitter handle. Instead of things. It’s just a tea. I don’t tweet a lot nowadays, because I’m gonna I’m gonna tweet fast. And I’m feeling a lot better because she followed me just expect a few, maybe a few posts updates on that thing. Awesome. Well, thank

Will Jarvis 54:17
you, john. Yeah, thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Well, that’s our show for today. I’m Will Jarvis and I’m will join us next week for more narratives.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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