Science: How the Thinking Parent Experiences Risk

23 03 2007

Nance and I have been over at Greg Laden’s blog a few times this week because of home education, but science is the main thing there, it seems. The tagline is “Evolution: not just a theory anymore” and so I figured education and evolution together were reason enough to link his place on the Snook roll for handy visiting.

Here’s something from his front page earbox today, via Wired News:

Some scary things are not really as risky as they seem, and others are better handled by staying in the scary situation to set up a more advantageous future response. This means there’s an evolutionary advantage to being able to hold off the reflexive fight-or-flight response while you work out a more sophisticated analysis of the situation and your options for handling it. . .

So here’s the first fundamental problem: We have two systems for reacting to risk — a primitive intuitive system and a more advanced analytic system — and they’re operating in parallel. It’s hard for the neocortex to contradict the amygdala. . .

A lot of the current research into the psychology of risk are examples of these newer parts of the brain getting things wrong.

And it’s not just risks. People are not computers. We don’t evaluate security trade-offs mathematically, by examining the relative probabilities of different events. Instead, we have shortcuts, rules of thumb, stereotypes and biases — generally known as “heuristics.” These heuristics affect how we think about risks, how we evaluate the probability of future events, how we consider costs, and how we make trade-offs. We have ways of generating close-to-optimal answers quickly with limited cognitive capabilities. Don Norman’s wonderful essay, Being Analog, provides a great background for all this.

Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics for some of this work, talks about humans having two separate cognitive systems, one that intuits and one that reasons . . .

Thinking Parents take on many risks along with our responsibilities, and we know it all too well. So it makes sense that we’d benefit by educating ourselves about analyzing and coping well with risk, too, tune up those helpful heuristics?



One response

29 03 2007

To Greg the biological anthropologist worried about antiscience homeschoolers:

I think science ought to be all over home education like Favorite Daughter’s boyfriend is all over her. Crazy with affection and can’t get close enough. Wooing us! Journalists too, authors, politicians, economists, anybody with good product rather than dumbed-down consumer crap to sell. You guys NEED a critical mass of better thinkers who love the thrill of the intellectual chase, future citizens more in love with your work than conscripted institutional schooling is giving you, and I’d say we’re your best hope of getting it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: