October 16, 2005

Glad to be scared

Johan Norberg writes here:
Sure, we have big environmental problems ahead of us. But we have even bigger problems behind us, and we managed to deal with them thanks to more wealth, knowledge and technology, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t be able to continue doing that.
Norberg ponders why people tend to be so pessimistic about the future of humankind. He believes that humans are problem-seekers:
Those who solved problems survived. And it means that we just keep looking for them. The moment we solve an old problem we don’t stop and enjoy the fact that we triumphed, we look for the next worse problem, and begin to work to solve it. We don’t lie awake at night and contemplate the fact that we have been able to deal with polio and tuberculosis, we lie awake at night and think about how to deal with HIV/AIDS, and worry about what bird flu might mean in the future. We don’t think about how great it is that we have eradicated malaria from the developed countries, we think about how horrible it is that so many people die from malaria in developing countries every day.
Norberg argues that we have several mental and perceptual biases that focus our attention on potential problems rather than past triumphs, on bad rather than good news, on particular instances of suffering rather than general trends of improvement. Being aware of these biases may help us to get a more balanced picture of reality, and to live less worried lives.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. It does help to focus on positive past outcomes from time to time. I realize that I am stating the obvious but, one must strike a balance. Critical thought is the basis of science and without it there would have been far fewer past positive outcomes.