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NEGATIVE EXTRAPOLATION

March 12th, 2020

 

Narrow misses are lucky for two reasons.  For one you didn’t get hit, but the second reason is you are given the opportunity to extrapolate negatively and imagine what the situation would have been like had it been much worse.  This might sound more depressing than lucky, but the second step to imagining a worse incarnation is the ability to figure out how to prepare for it.  Questions arise:

 

Will it happen again?

 

Is it possible to guarantee it never happens again?

 

If it does happen, what systems would I want in place?

 

This ranges across all sorts of things, from a scrapped knee after a bicycle accident while not wearing a helmet, to a destabilizing virus that doesn’t have a really high mortality rate?

 

Cyclists never fall just once during their careers on two wheels and we all get sick every year.

 

The first situation is pretty easy, and it’s often advice that we get from parents: wear a helmet, don’t ride when the roads are slick, pay attention to those gravel patches.

 

But the second, that of viruses that can run through populations opens up a potentially strange and productive land of thinking:

 

Does my business have the ability to hibernate for months on end without dying?

 

Why are my family and friends so far away from one another?

 

Perhaps I have another reason to keep healthy?

 

Do alternative energy sources seem even more advantageous now?

 

Such questions range the gamut of our whole life, and the imaginative space here is so ripe that our answers can start to take the shape of exciting movies.  We all admire the plotting and prepared super hero or supervillain, but such practicality often receives a smirk in real life.  This is perhaps because most people don’t want to feel obligated by the crowd to think about one more thing, and pencil in more stuff on the to-do list.

 

While these social forces are powerful in the moment, they mean nothing when events turn troubling.

 

We also have another force to battle, that is: irrational optimism.

 

As Robert Sapolsky writes in his book BEHAVE, “while people might accurately assess the risk of a behavior, they tend toward distortive optimism when assessing risk to themselves--- ‘Nah, that couldn’t happen to me.”

 

In some circumstances, this human tendency is great.  It helps create grit and fuels us to press onward past failure.

 

But it works against us when we face true disaster.  It’s for this reason that it can be so important to extrapolate negatively.  It’s not in order to be simply morose, it’s to level reality against our tendency to see it incorrectly.  Truly terrifying things can happen.  Are you good? Or would you rather have a plan when that monster comes knocking?


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Podcast Ep. 697: Negative Extrapolation

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