In 2016 Elon Musk and a group of sociologists, biomedical engineers, and brain specialists founded the company, Nueralink. The company is designing a chip that can be implanted as a “digital layer above the cortex.” The whole premise is to further the capabilities of the human brain. They aim to help people with brain diseases or disabilities first and then move on to human enhancement. They are hoping to keep up with the extreme and inconceivable levels of Artificial Intelligence and computing power that exist in the world today. These levels of technology have long since passed the abilities of the brains of homo sapiens. While this goal may seem scary and something out of a science fiction novel, the alternative may be much worse. We live in the “Information Age”. Where highly advanced devices can connect with other highly advanced devices across the world in an instant. We can search for almost any known piece of information that any human as ever learned ever. So how we do prioritize what to learn and know? What information is more important to know than other information? This is how I initially looked at this issue. Humans are limited in our capacities to know things. Making it a tough decision on what to spend our time learning about. This past election and viewing both sides’ interactions on social media has led me to understand the issue differently. It’s not about prioritizing what you know. We need to prioritize what we can and more importantly what we cannot be ignorant about. Some might take offense and state they aren’t ignorant. The definition of ignorance is “lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about a particular thing.” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Trust me there is plenty you are ignorant about.
Social media platforms use algorithms to determine what shows up as we scroll. It uses data (what you search for, what you like, what you share, what you pause to view, what you click on to view more information, when you do all of this, etc.) and it calculates what it thinks you want to see. (Check out “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix). And it includes ads, which goes through the same gambit of questions to determine when you are more likely to buy something. Many people have manipulated the algorithm by simply unfriending people with different opinions than them. You click “like” on something a politician says and share a picture or meme from a political group, and you run the risk of getting confirmation biased information as opposed to the full picture. We have to be radically open-minded in the information age and must not rely on the misleading headlines that are designed to drive engagement (and profits) and not provide accurate information. All too often I’ll read a shocking or engaging headline and then when I click in the article, it directly contradicts the headline! In one instance on CNN I clicked on a headline and when it brought up the article the article had a different and less misleading title. Seeing this trend has me deeply worried.
Knowing that we have limited capacities in our brains we have to prioritize what we know. More specifically we need to prioritize what we do not know. What particular topics we are ignorant about. I’ve studied financial services, human resources law, leadership and personal development. If someone asked me a question about personal development, I can help them or reference someone or something that can. If someone asked me about the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, woman’s reproduction, or the genetic mutations of contagions I would be hopelessly and hilariously ignorant. The beginning of wisdom starts with admission of one’s ignorance. I need to trust experts on these other topics because I know I am not the subject matter expert. Now many people will see that 90%+ of a certain professional group agrees on something, but instead of accepting the 90%+, they read an article that confirms their own opinion of what they believe is the truth. I have the great fortune of knowing a diverse group of friends and acquaintances that includes, but is not limited to; scientists, election personnel, lawyers, retail leaders, accountants, doctors, financial services, pharmacists, logistics specialists, teachers, and federal employees. I trust these individuals to do their best. Now some professions lend themselves to disagreement like scientists and lawyers. Scientists can disagree from time to time, but the consensus eventually is reached. They embody one of Amazon’s leadership principles which is “Have Backbone, Disagree, and Commit.” Once an agreement is reached, you commit to that agreement and move on. Even if the battle was fervent. But knowing how passionate these individuals are gives me confidence and faith that they are going to know a lot more about subjects than I ever will. Admitting this can be humbling, but it’s true.
One of the biggest issues this country is facing is broken trust. And I’m not saying you should trust others to the point of being naïve or gullible. I agree with the old adage that we shouldn’t assume. I’m saying there’s only so much you can know. Now if the issue of race comes up and you perceive there being no issues whatsoever, but you don’t make an effort to look at things from another person’s point of view, then your perception is biased and ignorant. It’s impossible to put ourselves in another’s shoes and look at the world through their lens, but we can try. And through that effort we become more empathetic, we listen, we learn, and ultimately, we can grow. It’s a tough task to strive to overcome 188 known cognitive biases that our brains contain. If you look at the social unrest the country has faced this past year and you chalk it up to “the media did it” or other conspiracy-based arguments that these movements were perpetrated solely because it’s an election year, then I’m willing to bet you haven’t reached out to someone that differs in opinion than you. Just by reaching out and asking them to talk about it and beginning the dialogue you can begin the process of seeing a glimpse of the way they see the world. Not aggressive, heartless, instantaneous meme-sharing, but actual human interaction. And listening to your fellow person. Can you imagine? Wouldn’t you like it if someone else did the same for you?
In most instances the subject being discussed has been overly simplified. We simplify things, so that we can limit the amount of brain energy we expend towards a certain topic. I’m not accusing people of being lazy it’s just the way the brain works. That’s why we can’t remember simple stuff like what we had for dinner last Tuesday. Our brain treats short term memories much like a computer treats RAM (Random Access Memory), it uses it temporarily and then dumps it once the task it completed. Take any topic and there are oversimplifications. Climate Change. This is one where the 90%+ of scientists are in agreement and yet many people refuse to agree or acknowledge that humans have made an impact on the Earth and the environment. In 2020 alone we’ve had so many storms in the Gulf of Mexico our naming conventions were running out. The fires burning on the West coast and Colorado have been more widespread and intense as ever before. Yet we see one article that says, “Nope humans are perfect and they didn’t do anything wrong” and we say, “See! It’s fake!”. Meanwhile insurance premiums skyrocket, homes and livelihoods are destroyed, biodiversity gets ravaged, and wetlands continue to erode. A state passes a law to try and reduce plastic and they become the laughing stock of the country. Perhaps instead of climate change we should refer to the issue as “Human Impact”. Then we can turn from a science issue to a math issue. Earth has a finite amount of resources and a finite amount of landmass. If human population is at 7 billion and continues to climb in countries like China, India, and now Africa then what does that look like in terms of fossil fuel consumption in 2050? If you don’t trust the scientists then do your own arithmetic and see where it lands. Now combating this crisis is very complicated. We must balance keeping people safe currently while progressing towards more innovative and renewable energy sources in the future. This is the intricacy of the political argument where republicans argue we can’t switch off our dependency on oil and gas like a light switch. Where democrats argue we need to be more aggressive in this progression. But if there is misinformation spreading about the importance of the issue in of itself then we aren’t arguing semantics, we are arguing as to what is reality. My grandfather’s brother and sister-in-law drowned in their attic during Katrina. They perished alongside another 1800+ people who lost their lives. In 2016 in Louisiana they experienced “a thousand-year flood” causing $10-15 billion dollars in property damage, with over 146,000 homes being damaged, and at least 13 deaths. My brother’s house was spared, but on the worst day they evacuated via boat from their home. Several of my friends lost their home and would spend the next 1-2 years rebuilding. In 2018 the Camp Fire that ravaged Paradise, CA claimed the lives of 86 people. We can chalk these natural disasters up to God and ignore the science, but that won’t help us deal with future events. This is why I invested what I could into Tesla and why I purchased a Tesla. Because I truly believe actions speak louder than words. This is especially true about politicians. Don’t listen to the rhetoric, watch what they do. Now I understand I am blessed and not everyone can afford to buy a Tesla. Another approach would be to purchase local produce from a local farmer’s market. Not purchasing fruit that has shipped across the world. You could shop local small businesses as opposed to Amazon. You can buy American if you live in America. You can recycle. You can plant some fruits and vegetables on your land if you have it. I highly recommend this as gardening is quite therapeutic. Especially in the screen addicted society we live in today.
Human Impact on the climate is just one topic and I barely scratched the service of the intricacies involved. We have to continue to learn and to grow. We have to read books. We are living in separate realities right now. And it’s all based on what you hear, watch, and read. By limiting what you hear, watch, and read to what you already “know” is resulting in you stifling your growth. You are being close-minded. And this goes on both sides. One side looks at the other and says “I cannot believe they believe that. They are so stupid!” Which side was I talking about? Why are their such divided sides to begin with? We should probably look at ways of stopping there from being two sides and instead make decisions on specific issues based on overall consensus. Maybe we should have a ranking system on presidential candidates like Andrew Yang described? All I know is if you side with a certain political party regardless of what they say then it isn’t a political party, it’s a religion. And this isn’t a new concept. “Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.” -Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers #1, October 27, 1787. Have we not grown in 233 yards? Genetically very little has changed between humans that live today and humans that lived thousands of years ago. Are we engulfed with our ego to the point where we think we are better than the humans that lived before us? The extreme right and the extreme left is growing as the country becomes more polarized. But we better all start becoming extreme moderates if we are going to actually solve any of the plethora of issues facing us as a country. To look at an issue and strive to solve it. To disagree, have backbone, but then COMMIT. Not try to “win”. Not try to defeat the other side at all costs. While we are squabbling like chickens our enemies are circling above us. There is a famous psychology experiment where participants were asked to count how many times a team passed a ball. The participants focused hard on the video watching the kids passing the ball and counting. After the video ends they ask how many passes. Then they ask, did you see the gorilla? The participants were like… wait, what? While they were so focused on kids in white shirts passing a ball back and forth and kids in black shirts passing a ball back and forth they missed a person in a gorilla suit walk into the frame, bangs his chest while looking directly at the camera, and then walk out of frame. They were so focused they missed it. What gorillas are we missing while we fight one another?
We cannot afford to be ignorant towards the global pandemic. Herd immunity hasn’t been confirmed. There are multiple strains. Something I’ve heard touted by a lot of people is the death rate. This isn’t like the common cold. This isn’t like the flu. This is something different. And the long-term effects are not all worked out yet. Sure, you probably will survive if you are in good health and younger, but there could be new issues that arise from complications to this thing. There are so many unknowns. Please listen to scientists. Please get vaccinated with a vaccine that has a 95%+ efficacy. If you don’t think it’s legitimate than reach out to an epidemiologist, or your doctor, or a healthcare worker. Not a random person on the internet. Not a person in a YouTube video. There’s a difference between being ignorant and being close minded. Being ignorant means you don’t know something. Being close minded means you are choosing to be ignorant about something. In this day of near unlimited information we need to prioritize what we can and cannot be ignorant about. We must be open minded and listen. Otherwise our ignorance will be our doom.
We need to listen. We need to be aware that someone’s reality is different than our own. I can’t reiterate this enough; this applies to all of us. Are you a human? Then this applies to you. Just because your reality has led you to the point where you believe you know more than them doesn’t mean that’s true. We have a common enemy. That enemy is social media companies structuring algorithms to fuel the division of our reality. That enemy is news outlets eroding trust by posting misleading and biased click-bait headlines. That enemy is foreign governments that invest money specifically to push ads through social media to divide and destabilize us. That enemy is the ultra wealthy with poor morals that influence all of the above. How do we battle these enemies? We aren’t going to pick up a rifle and ammunition and go gather and march on a foreign adversary or at a social media’s headquarters. We battle these by knowing that they exist. I’m sure many people have heard the old line, “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people he doesn’t exist.” We are not each other’s’ enemies. We need each other. I need you because I am painfully aware of my cognitive limitations. And perhaps, you need me too. And that’s why I wrote this. Jordan B. Peterson once said, “When you have something to say, silence is the lie.” I will strive to not be silent any longer.
-Bradley C. Bertoniere