The lecture is by Isaiah Berlin, delivered at Oxford University in 1955. The subject is Alexander Herzen, and more specifically his masterpiece My Past and Thoughts, written in 1868.
Listen to this episode
"René Le Berre, a French entomologist who helped inspire an international campaign that saved millions of West Africans from the parasitic disease river blindness, died Dec. 6 in L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer on France’s western coast. He was 78.
Onchocerciasis, the formal name for river blindness, had once been a scourge in the fertile river basins of tropical Africa."That obit is from the NYT.
"I mean, S&P, Moody’s, Fitch, these people all rated securities that apparently completely tanked. So there’s obviously something in the demand for expertise, the imprimatur, which is not really about the fact that they do a good job. By the way, those organizations are not transparent either, just as the Wine Spectator isn’t. So there’s some similarity here that I think probably gives us a little insight into things that are much broader than wine and food."That is Orley Ashenfelter of Princeton University, quoted by Stephen J. Dubner in a recent Freakonomics column in the NYT. Experts have shown themselves to be no better than regular people in terms of guessing the price (and presumably, quality) of wines in blind taste tests. Professor Ashenfelter argues that the same phenomenon extends into many other arenas.
"The larger lesson is that the brain is a deeply constrained thinking machine, full of cognitive tradeoffs and zero-sum constraints. Those chess professionals and London cabbies can perform seemingly superhuman mental feats, as they chunk their world into memorable patterns. However, those same talents make them bad at seeing beyond their chunks, at making sense of games and places they can’t easily understand."That is from a piece by Jonah Lehrer in Wired (HT: April Harding). People who have deep expertise in certain areas often have difficulty incorporating new information from outside their narrow expertise. This is why it is important to have a good mix of both experts and crowds in many endeavors, especially social ones. It is not either-or, but both-and. Finding the balance is the key.
"In the final chapter, Seeley suggests five lessons we could learn from bees.
• Compose a decision-making group of individuals with shared interests. Here bees have a higher stake than us: all members of a colony are related (sisters) and nobody can survive without the group.
• Minimise the leader's influence on the group. Here we humans have much to learn.
• Seek diverse solutions to the problem. Humans realised only recently that diversity is good for a group.
• Update the group's knowledge through debate. Here again, bees are superior to us, as each scout's "dances" become less effective with time, no matter how good a new site is, while stubbornness can lead humans to argue forever.
• Use quorums to gain cohesion, accuracy and speed. Impressively, bees came up with this concept long before the Greeks."That is Tyler Cowen, discussing Thomas Seeley's new book Honeybee Democracy. These points resonate with my own experience.