Thursday, January 24, 2013

What we should fear...

Gary Marcus does a review of some answers to the annual question of John Brockman's, "What *should* we be worried about?" On the question of whether we are psychologically and politically constituted to worry about what we most need to worry about, Marcus suggests:
that there is good reason to think that we are not inclined that way, both because of an inherent cognitive bias that makes us focus on immediate concerns (like getting our dishwasher fixed) to the diminishment of our attention to long-term issues (like getting enough exercise to maintain our cardiovascular fitness) and because of a chronic bias toward optimism known as a “just-world fallacy” (the comforting but unrealistic idea that moral actions will invariably lead to just rewards).
A theme throughout the collection is what Stanford psychologist Brian Knutson calls “metaworry”. His metaworry is that:
...actual threats [to our species] are changing much more rapidly than they have in the ancestral past. Humans have created much of this environment with our mechanisms, computers, and algorithms that induce rapid, “disruptive,” and even global change. Both financial and environmental examples easily spring to mind.… Our worry engines [may] not retune their direction to focus on these rapidly changing threats fast enough to take preventative action.

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