Model: book knowledge vs other knowledge

April 23rd, 2021

How we over-value

  • book knowledge,

  • narrative,

  • understanding why something works

We only let ourselves be influenced when we have a story that makes sense about why something happens.


And how we undervalue "evolutionary knowledge".

This is knowledge passed down through the ages.

  • in family knowledge passed from grandparents onto grandchildren

  • craft knowledge passed on from master to apprentice

  • religion rules / practices / rituals

When evolutionary knowledge improves an individual's fitness for their environment.



We only let ourselves be influenced by stories that make sense.


Let's take a FICTIONAL example

[Part 1 - experiential evidence without a story]

If you were to learn "research shows that eating leaves and bark from birch trees counteracts toxic substances ingested"

That's not really motivating and unlikely to change your behaviour.


[Part 2 - making sense with a story]

But once you add on a narrative that it "makes sense", it suddenly carries a lot of value.

You may know that drinking birch tree sap, while disgusting, it often believed to be healthy (for whatever reason).

So if you already took that as a fact, or perhaps only on reading that.

Suddenly it makes sense!

The sap is healthy, the sap probably flows through the leaves!

And the sap is close to the bark.

Who knows, bark might even be partially solid sap.

(I don't know anything about tree biology, so why not?)


Now it makes sense, eating leaves and bark, it makes sense that would be healthy!


What the author points out is

Don't wait until you have a story.

Experiential evidence carries much more information than an imagined narrative.


But this is how our mind works.

Our mind likes stories that make sense.


Evolutionary knowledge improves an individual's fitness for their environment.


Example: food, affluence, fasting

Many religions have some form of fasting rule in them.

Studies have shown that fasting has health benefits.

Humans are (evolutionary) not used to living in an environment with abundant, regular food.

We are simply not used to it on an evolutionary scale.

Human bodies are used to getting irregular food intake, both irregular in time of day as in content (protein, carb, fat).

While modern humans consume food regular in both time (3 meals per day) and content (perfectly balanced food pyramid for every meal).


So fasting is an added behaviour,

to make humans better fit this unfamiliar modern environment,

where food is abundant and available all the time.


This knowledge is "evolutionary",

because the knowledge (in this case the religion is a bundle of knowledge / rules / practices / rituals),

makes humans a better or worse fit for their environment.

And then over time, natural selection kicks in, uplifting those who are a better fit.


The same goes for

  • craft knowledge passed down

  • family tradition

  • cultural tradition

  • religion

  • ...


Certain knowledge either makes people fit their environment more / less and over time natural selection will filter the valuable knowledge out.


(src: Nassim Nicholas Taleb )

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