Subtraction of a substance not seasoned by our evolutionary history reduces the possibility of Black Swans while leaving one open to improvements. Should the improvements occur, we can be pretty comfortable that they are as free of unseen side effects as one can get.
So there are many hidden jewels in via negativa applied to medicine. For instance, telling people not to smoke seems to be the greatest medical contribution of the last sixty years. Druin Burch, in Taking the Medicine, writes: “The harmful effects of smoking are roughly equivalent to the combined good ones of every medical intervention developed since the war.… Getting rid of smoking provides more benefit than being able to cure people of every possible type of cancer.
Likewise, happiness is best dealt with as a negative concept; the same nonlinearity applies. Modern happiness researchers (who usually look quite unhappy), often psychologists turned economists (or vice versa), do not use nonlinearities and convexity effects when they lecture us about happiness as if we knew what it was and whether that’s what we should be after. Instead, they should be lecturing us about unhappiness (I speculate that just as those who lecture on happiness look unhappy, those who lecture on unhappiness would look happy); the “pursuit of happiness” is not equivalent to the “avoidance of unhappiness.” Each of us certainly knows not only what makes us unhappy (for instance, copy editors, commuting, bad odors, pain, the sight of a certain magazine in a waiting room, etc.), but what to do about it.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Nassim Taleb quote