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the thinkfuture glossary of concepts

Abstraction: Understanding something at different levels can change your perspective. For example, a person can be seen as an individual, a mammal, or a collection of cells. Disagreements often arise when people view things from different levels of abstraction. A car can be seen as a mode of transportation or as a complex assembly of various materials and electronics.

Benford’s Law: This law states that numbers in natural datasets aren’t evenly distributed. For example, about 30% of numbers start with 1. Tax agencies use this to catch financial fraud.

Bias Against Null Results: Interesting studies get published more often than unremarkable ones. This creates a skewed view of the world, making it seem more surprising than it really is.

Boltzmann Brain: This concept suggests that it’s more feasible for a single brain to spontaneously emerge from nothing than for the entire universe to do so. Philosophically, it might be more probable for a single brain to spontaneously form than for the entire universe as we know it.

Brandolini’s Law: Refuting false information takes much more effort than creating it. As a result, there’s a lot of unchallenged misinformation in the world. Creating a sensational but false news story is easier than fact-checking and refuting it.

Bulverism: Dismissing someone’s argument on climate change by attacking their character (e.g., calling them an alarmist) instead of addressing their points.

Chesterton’s Fence: Before removing an old law or tradition, understand its purpose. Its longevity suggests it serves some function.

Cumulative Culture: Humanity’s success comes from our ability to store and build upon past knowledge, not just our individual intelligence. Modern farming practices utilize ancient agricultural techniques passed down through generations.

Curse of Knowledge: The more you know about a topic, the harder it is to explain it to others who aren’t familiar with it.

Decision Fatigue: Making too many decisions can wear you out, leading to poorer choices. It’s why some people simplify their lives by reducing trivial decisions, like what to wear. A CEO wears the same style of clothes daily to minimize decision-making.

Engagement Farming: The practice of creating content designed specifically to generate high interaction, such as likes, comments, and shares, regardless of the content’s authenticity or quality. Posting a controversial or sensational statement on social media to provoke comments and debate, thereby increasing the post’s visibility and engagement.

Flow States: When you’re fully absorbed in a task, it feels effortless and time seems to vanish. Starting the task is often the biggest challenge. A programmer is so engrossed in coding that they lose track of time.

Futarchy: This concept proposes voting on desired societal outcomes, like higher median income, and using betting markets to choose policies that will achieve them. Proposing a society where votes are for metrics to maximize, like median income, and policy is determined by its likelihood of achieving these metrics.

Great Temptation: Advanced civilizations might get lost in virtual worlds instead of exploring space, suggesting why we haven’t found aliens yet.

Hedonic Treadmill: Achieving your desires doesn’t lead to lasting happiness. We adapt and start wanting something new. Buying a new car brings temporary happiness, but soon one returns to their baseline level of satisfaction.

Hitchens’ Razor: Claims made without evidence can be dismissed just as easily. Dismissing unproven claims about miracle cures without needing evidence to refute them.

Hypernovelty: Technological progress is accelerating, making the world change faster than we can adapt. Rapid technological advancement making the world change faster than people can adapt.

Immortality Project: Our pursuit of meaning is an attempt to distract ourselves from our mortality. Building monuments and writing books to leave a legacy beyond one’s lifetime.

Law of Very Large Numbers: In a large dataset, even rare events happen frequently. What seems unusual is actually common on a large scale. In a large city like NYC, rare events can happen frequently due to the high population.

Luxury Beliefs: The cultural elite often hold views that signal their status but can harm less fortunate people. Wealthy individuals advocating for high-resource lifestyles are unattainable for most people.

Mediocracy: Democracy succeeds by choosing average leaders, focusing on stability rather than progress. Democracy elects average leaders rather than exceptional ones for the sake of preservation over progress.

Mimetic Desire: We often desire what others desire, leading to conflicts over things we don’t genuinely want. People adopt fashion trends based on what celebrities wear.

Messiah Effect: People follow those who passionately believe in something, often changing their own beliefs to match. Followers change their beliefs to align with those of a charismatic leader.

Network Effect: The value of a network increases as more people use it, explaining the dominance of platforms like Facebook and X. Social media platforms like Facebook become more valuable as more people join.

Network States: Future nations might be formed by like-minded online communities rather than geographical locations. Online communities advocate for policies that favor digital nomad lifestyles.

Operation Mindfuck: A conspiracy theory that protects against other conspiracies by making you question everything. Questioning whether received information is part of a plot to deceive.

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time allotted for it, leading to procrastination and inefficiency. A task expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.

Paradox of Abundance: Easy access to things, like food, information, or money, can lead to poor choices but also opportunities for better decisions. With abundant food choices, some people choose healthy options while many consume junk food.

p-hacking: Researchers sometimes manipulate data to find significant results, contributing to the replication crisis in science.

Planck’s Principle: Scientific progress often happens when older scientists are replaced by younger ones with new ideas. Scientific progress often happens as older scientists with outdated views are replaced by younger ones.

Purposeful Stupidity: Some societal norms resemble tactics used for subtle sabotage. Implementing inefficient procedures that hinder productivity, similar to CIA field manual sabotage tactics

Replication Crisis: Many scientific findings cannot be replicated, indicating a problem with research reliability.

Scout Mindset: Rather than defending beliefs (soldier mindset), it’s more useful to explore and gather information. Approaching discussions with the intention to explore and gather information.

Scope Neglect: Our tribal evolution makes it hard for us to comprehend large numbers, affecting our understanding of big-scale issues. Difficulty comprehending the difference in scale between millions and billions, affecting our response to large-scale problems.

Semmelweis Reflex: People often reject new evidence that contradicts established beliefs. Initial rejection of new evidence that contradicts established beliefs, like the importance of handwashing in preventing infections.

Simulation Hypothesis: Given enough computing power, it’s likely that our reality is a simulated one. The possibility that our reality is an advanced computer simulation.

Status Quo Bias: People often overlook the risks of inaction while overestimating the risks of change. Overlooking the risks of not investing due to perceived risks in investing.

The Hinge of History: Our current decisions, particularly in technology, may have significant long-term impacts. Our current era’s decisions on AI, climate change, and other technologies may have far-reaching impacts.

The Tragedy of the Commons: Individual interests can lead to collective harm, as seen in the overuse of shared resources. Overfishing in international waters due to lack of ownership and responsibility.

The Veil of Ignorance: Designing a fair society requires considering it from all possible perspectives. Designing a fair society by assuming you could wake up as any member of it.

Toxoplasma of Rage: The most divisive ideas spread fastest because they prompt people to show allegiance to their group. Divisive topics gaining more attention because they prompt people to signal their tribal commitments.

Unfettered AI: The need for AI to think beyond human limitations to solve complex problems.

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