spacer image
spacer image

Welcome! You're looking at an archived Snarkmarket entry. We've got a fresh look—and more new ideas every day—on the front page.

July 24, 2009

<< Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy | Just Another Walk Down the Aisle >>

Counterfactual Friday

This is interesting: Noah Brier points to a thought experiment posed by Tyler Cowen:

A freak solar event “sterilizes” the half of the planet (people, animals, etc) facing the sun. What happens?

Okay, it’s weird and bleak. But I think devoting even a few minutes of hard thought to bizarre scenarios can make you a much better thinker. It’s counterfactual cross-training.

By way of analogy: I always tell people that blogging is useful, even if nobody’s reading, because it forces you to have an opinion on things. You don’t realize how blankly you experience most of the stuff you read every day until you force yourself to say something—even something very simple—about it.

So I think regularly engaging in a bit of counterfactual thinking can provide the same benefit—and maybe on a more macro scale. The trick is to be realistic: You’re not trying to dream up a pithy one-liner, but rather a sequence of headlines that you really think might unfurl over the course of days, weeks, years.

Tyler Cowen thinks this kind of thinking is useful, too:

To some of you these mental exercises may seem silly. Indeed they are silly. But what’s wrong with silly? Such questions get at the stability of social order, the sources of that stability, and the general importance of demography and intergenerational relations. Those are all topics we don’t think enough about. Because we’re not silly enough.

And click through to see what he thinks happens next.

Posted July 24, 2009 at 11:22 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


I really like the commenter Alger's answer:

"If (as is suggested by the ellipsis) a global half of EVERYTHING currently able to reproduce is rendered sterile it doesn't matter what nations are dayside at that moment, in fact if it is noon in the mid-Pacific the results would be far more drastic than if it's noon over Washington DC.

"The effect in most scenarios would be a rapid disappearance of megafauna as the food chain collapses when bacteria and fungi disappear, and the oxygen levels of the atmosphere begin to swing widely depending what part of the globe is getting the sun.

"Even if the degree of sterilization doesn't reach to our own cellular reproduction we are still doomed. When you consider that humans are to a radical degree dependent upon their symbiotic microfauna for survival you begin to see the problem.

"As currently structured, most of what we recognize as life on earth depends upon the remainder being there."

There's always at least one person who takes off-the-cuff catastrophe SERIOUSLY.

spacer image
spacer image