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Most people underestimate the complexity of nonlinear systems, which limits predictability.

This is very Nassim Taleb - and also likely true.

Most people don't want to discuss it, for obvious reasons, but it should be acknowledged.

In sharp contrast to most commencement remarks, this is actually quite memorable, which is why I am sharing it. 

Also, because it encourages humility, gratefulness and overall moral behavior. Ethics matters. It is one thing one can control.

Here is the transcript: http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S33/87/54K53/index.xml?section
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Vamsee Kanakala's profile photoRobin Cohen's profile photoLya Batlle's profile photoMarjolein Caniels's profile photo
13 comments
 
it's really amazing how we are wired to create meaning automatically in any situation... it is so difficult for people to see how events and life circumstances can emerge randomly, unrelated to any internal essential individual aspect.  We end up organizing our world into a set of if x then y stories... if I have millions of dollars, I am great and deserve it and if he is homeless then he is bad and deserves nothing... it is so impossible, i think, to break this way of thinking...
 
In a methods class once, we were asked to develop a "projective test" (like a Rorschach ink-blot test) to assess a "psychological need".  My team developed a "need for meaningfulness" test which consisted of a series of pages with one or more images on each.  Some of these images on a page were related (a company picnic), while some on another page were random (my favorite: [a] the Three Kings atop their camels, next to [b] an anglerfish, next to [c] a martini glass with an olive in it).  We would show these pages to subjects and ask, "Tell me what you see here."  If they made up a story for the related images, they were given a 0, and if they made up a story for the unrelated images, we scored them a 1 on a "need for meaningfulness".  A surprising number of people did create meanings out of gathered random images, confirming +Robin Cohen 's suspicions.  (We never did more than make this a class project.)  In some ways, such a high need in an extreme case is manifest in those suffering from paranoia, for instance.
 
It is kind of scary how we are do compelled to make meaning so immediately and automatically
 
+Robin Cohen I'd say it's an inevitability, particularly for those with a modicum of intelligence.  The problem, to me, lies in the biases by which we do these rapid-fire assemblies of meaning -- these are not challenged by reality as often as they should be.  Erroneous inferences, assumptions and errors of judgement often follow as a result.  Periodically, a massive 2 X 4 may knock some sense into us (an accident, an illness, a sudden catastrophic "black swan" event), but until then we carry on, unknowingly, in our uniquely deluded fashion.
 
Common-sense advice from "expert" psychologists is similarly given undue praise, too.  Far be it from me to ask, though, "How's that working out for you, Dr. Phil?"
 
that's true +Peter DO Smith .... absolutely... it's still scary (although good for dangerous situations)..  
 
i just realized that I missed quite a few of these interesting responses....thanks +William McGarvey +Peter DO Smith and I look forward to reading the article +Pascal Wallisch ...and book (perhaps) +Peter DO Smith .  Yes, these meaning making abilities have worked wonderfully for our survival, and even for many situations in our current world.  It's as if we have James Bond type cars with all of these wonderful highly specialized very well tuned tools that help us beautifully in survival missions, but we end up driving around town in them in traffic, getting distracted by the tools while we should be driving and sometimes setting them off in the wrong circumstances, i.e. accidentally pressing the ejector seat...
I think besides the issue of this false illusion of merit  that Michael Lewis refers to, this issue seems to play a significant factor in anxiety-- whether it is clinically problematic anxiety or just the everyday variety that has us worrying about whether a pimple is cancer or if our accountant is overcharging us.  While it is fine to entertain these thoughts, we don't seem to have a mechanism that works well to turn off the concern and allow us to move onto other concerns.  I like some of the Buddhist thoughts and practices that make a point of labeling these concerns as thoughts rather than as facts that we have to act on.  
 
I remember reading Liar's Poker in high school - that book was amazing, and I still reference it today to any friends that are interested in economics or wall street like business. Thanks for the link!
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