Subscribe to Annie's Substack

Prophetic Plot, Prescient Prompt – Annie’s Newsletter, Dec 1, 2017

Decision strategy and its components: human behavior, science, uncertainty, failure, collaboration, dissent, exchange of ideas, probabilistic thinking, and anything I think might attract the attention of people interested in those subjects.

View this email in your browser



Plot by Ray Bradbury, prompt by Ryan Holiday 

A must read this week from Ryan Holiday (@ryanholiday) highlighting an overlooked point from Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Fahrenheit 451.

We all read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and think we know the takeaway: totalitarianism, book-burning as a routine government practice, the danger to free expression and thought.


Holiday reminds us of Bradbury’s sly warning about the origins of the book burning practice: the populace demanded it as a way to avoid people taking offense or being exposed to unpleasant matters. No books, no fragile feelings hurt.

In one of the stranger instances of fiction becoming fact, earlier this year Florida passed a law which allows any citizen a public hearing to challenge any public-school material as pornographic, biased, inaccurate, or a violation of state law.

Ironically one of the books under fire is, you guessed it, Fahrenheit 451.



College discussions of controversial issues takes a hit, then gets a lift

Ryan Holiday’s article provides a sharp focus for a recent free-speech battle: teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd (@newworldhominim) vs. Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

If you haven’t followed the story, Shepherd was a TA for a communications class. In her recitation section, she showed five minutes of a TVOntario video of a debate about Canada’s recent law on the use of gendered pronouns. At least one student filed a complaint, presumably because the subject matter could be sensitive to transgender students.

Shepherd was called to a meeting with her supervisors, which she recorded. You can listen to a recording of the meeting here. The position of the professor she was TAing for, Nathan Rambukkana, and the others in the room, was that the students were too fragile to hear debate about controversial topics.

As Shepherd kept insisting during the meeting, this is a real-world debates and these students will face these opinions when they leave the university. Shouldn’t the classroom be a place to foster healthy discussion about controversial issues of these sorts? If we censor showing a video in which diverse opinions clash in open debate because it might hurt someone’s feelings or because students are too fragile, aren’t we just living Fahrenheit 451?

For a much more in-depth discussion of the incident, check out this post from Heterodox Academy’s Raffi Grinberg.

The role of a public apology, and the decision to accept or reject it

Due to the media attention the audio recording generated, the university’s president, Deborah MacLatchy, apologized on behalf of the school. Rambukkana also wrote an open letter of apology to Shepherd, recognizing that he, as her mentor, should not have thrown her under the bus.

There was quite a bit of negative reaction to the apologies, some of which you can read here in response to a Jon Haidt tweet  (@jonhaidt) praising Rambukkana’s open letter.

We’re seeing a lot of apologies these days…and a lot of apologies not being accepted. I wonder if all these apologies are being rejected in part because we conflate accepting the apology with acceptance of the act being apologized for. I personally think accepting an apology doesn’t mean you have forgiven the act. Rather, to me it means that the person apologizing may have learned from what has happened, and it is now a matter of watching to see if behavior changes going forward.

If we never accept an apology, are we allowing any room or motivation for anyone to change their mind? The apology is a first step toward improving a situation – not the conclusion – and if we’re overly critical and quick to dismiss apologies, we demotivate people from taking that first step toward growth.

I have also been noticing our tribal nature affecting whether an apology is accepted or rejected. Not surprisingly, we seem much more likely to accept apologies from people who are within our tribe, who we’re motivated to accept the apology from. I think we’re much more likely to dismiss apologies from people who we don’t consider to be in our tribe.

Watch out for motivated rejection (or acceptance) of apologies. I think this is a good time to step back and think, “If this apology came from somebody else, would I feel the same way about it?”



Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) has a new book out, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. I love the idea of short bits of life advice from so many accomplished folks. And I am totally humbled to be included as one of the mentors, sandwiched between courageous ultra-marathoner Turia Pitt (@turiapitt) and entertainment icon Jimmy Fallon (@jimmyfallon)

I was also excited to see two other mentors from the world of poker included, Liv Boeree (@liv_boeree) and Daniel Negreanu (@realkidpoker). Increasingly, thought leaders are recognizing how poker training translates into insights in other fields.

Dan Ariely (@danariely) and Jeff Kreisler (@jeffkreisler) just came out with a new book,Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter. This is a must read for anyone looking to better understand the irrationalities in how we think about and behave toward money. You learn things like why “free” isn’t really “free,” why you spend more money when there’s a sale, and tons of other fun and useful stuff.


A pair of novel ways to look at the Periodic Table

And, just for fun, here are two cool ways to interact with the Periodic Table.

From (@mental_floss), an illustrated Periodic Table created by Keith Enevoldsen, with the words and pictures most commonly associated with each element.

From (@ScienceMagazine), a mouse-over Periodic Table with a haiku summarizing each element.

Click here to subscribe to Annie’s Updates!