One man randomized his life. He teaches us why we need much more trial-and-error experimentation—in our lives and in public policy. Here's how it might work.
Again a timeless and timely elegant essay. Thank you, Brian.
Brian, another brilliant discussion! Your article begs the question of why people do not explore, experiment, or take to different experiences? Sure, “knowingness” is a real issue, but I hypothesize it goes beyond that. I think the answer lies in the underlying fear of change and differences. But when does fear override the necessity for exploration and change? I think Tom Nichols at The Atlantic has some good thoughts. It is being too comfortable and having no need to push to explore and open up the world. It is living in a bubble faced with things one “knows” leading to “knowingness” and not realizing how much one does not truly know or understand. It is an inherent lack of curiosity. It is a need to feel in control at all times, even when the reality is control is an illusion.
Evolution will eventually weed out these traits, but how long will it take? Can we as a society afford to wait for that? After all, we are seeing the trend of making education “comfortable” and sanitized so as not to traumatize those who may be shocked by the ugliness and reality of the past, who fear science because they do not understand it, and are beating the experimental and exploratory instincts out of our children.
If we start with anything in public policy, we start by encouraging exploration and experimentation in our educational experience rather than rote memorization requires to take tests as is the case in the US today. Require exploration through narrative and writing, not multiple choice tests.
Great one! Was Hawkins inspired by the 1971 novel Dice Man (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dice_Man)?
3. "It's not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It's because we dare not venture that they are difficult." -- Seneca. Thank you Brian for this!
Here's a different kind of incuriosity: Often we naturally or semi-formally set things up as if they were experiments and we have access to the results, but we don't use the info because we forget that we had been curious in the past and that we can change our ways in the future. I'm remembering a job I had years ago. We built a particular kind of website for businesses to sign up their new customers, and we could customize it a little for each business. At the outset, we didn't know whether Design A or Design B would push more customers to choose a certain option, so we let each business implement whichever design they felt was more aesthetically pleasing. Turned out, Design A was hugely more effective, leading to something like 10x more selections. We had this firm data. We should have just stopped offering Design B at all and assured businesses that the only design we continued to offer had been "tested and proven." Yet we continued to offer both options and to allow businesses to pick the useless one, as if we didn't have a decade of data telling us which was better. I think it was because the experiment was never formal. There was never an end date by which anyone was responsible for running a report and drawing a conclusion. Our marketers became accustomed to pleasantly offering businesses "a choice," and by the time we'd collected years of data, no one remembered that we had the means to determine objectively which choice was better. I would sometimes raise this topic, and people treated my suggestion as though I were proposing a new experiment or some kind of extra work, although I was just pointing out that historically there was 10x more money through Door A than Door B.
I have a smart friend who says that all government policies and regulations should have funding built in to analyze whether they're actually achieving their stated goals. Which implies that all of them should have stated goals that are measurable.
Thank you Brian. I am the experimenter in my life. I live in spacious unknowing, understanding my inner network, the brain changer. Life transitions flow from the inner workings into my life. My body is a lab where I will understand exactly the way everything works, body, mind, and breath (spirit). No circumstance in my life is bigger than this way of life. Thanks for your essay, Brian. It caused me to speak the truth for the way many people live who are unseen and unheard.
I'm a little stuck on the premise that "most laws are based on hunches". Don't we send out surveys, solicit comment, debate the options, etc.? At some point a decision has to be made and while that decision may rely on incomplete data and be based in compromise, it seems to me that most being based on a hunch would be hard to support.
It's funny but not great.