The Power of Darwin Facts: How to Challenge Your Beliefs

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During their latest episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Brewster, Taylor, and Carlisle discussed The Power of Darwin Facts: How to Challenge Your Beliefs. Here’s an excerpt from the episode:

Jake: So, I’m not that far from Westminster Abbey at the moment, which happens to be the burial place of Charles Darwin, among other things. So, we’re doing a Charles Darwin inspired veggie segment this week. Of course, everybody knows his contribution of theory of evolution, 1837, along with Alfred Russel Wallace. They published close together. And also, everyone knows the story of him going on a voyage to the Galápagos on the end on– [crosstalk]

Tobias: On the Beagle.

Jake: Yeah, the Beagle. Seeing these different finches with their specialized beaks for getting different types of food adapted to their environment. But Darwin also had some other intellectual contributions that we might find useful. I’m not referring to the pros and cons of marriage, which is one of the things that he wrote about in his journal that they published.

Tobias: Was he for it or against it? Where did he fold–? [crosstalk]

Jake: Oh, it’s a little bit interesting. I’ll give you some of the pros he had. Companionship in old age [crosstalk] “better than a dog anyhow.”

Tobias: Lives longer.

Jake: Number two, children. And then the charms of music and female chitchat. That was another thing in the pro column. On the con side, it would limit his means and he’d feel a duty to work more. It would pinch his freedom and his travel, not having to have to go visit relatives, which he didn’t enjoy. And also, it would keep him from buying as many books as he wanted, and then also fatness and idleness. [laughs]

Bill: I’ll tell you what, man. I would disagree with him almost on each side of that list. Almost everything he said. Not everything, but a lot of it. I prefer her family to my own, but I digress.

Jake: Well, maybe Darwin wasn’t well.

Tobias: More family. [unintelligible [00:39:06]

Jake: Well, here’s the amazing thing that he was visiting his family and her family because they were first cousins.

Bill: Yeah.


Bill: That’s a bit tight.

Jake: It was a little bit different time that– [crosstalk]

Tobias: The dude who was into genetics married his first cousin?

Jake: Yes.

Tobias: The evolution of the species.

Bill: That is interesting.

Jake: All right, so let’s get this back on the line.

Bill: This is why I’m long-term long idiocracy, by the way.

Tobias: Yeah, it’s inevitable.

Bill: [laughs]

Jake: Perhaps, his most powerful and maybe least known and insightful contribution had nothing to do with marriage or evolution. Whenever Darwin was faced with an alternative hypothesis to his beliefs, with some new information that jarred with what he believed, he would make sure that he wrote it down within 30 minutes of learning about it. The purpose behind that was that he said he would make a habit of doing this because otherwise his mind would automatically reject that idea and he’d continue on his original path as if he’d never seen it. And basically, this is the inverse of confirmation bias. Like, he’s working hard to combat that. So, usually for me, when it gets triggered, I’ll have a feeling of surprise. That’s often what that means. Really surprise is when your brain is saying that the incoming data stream from your senses doesn’t match this Bayesian model of what it’s expecting. That’s what surprise is.

So, personally for me, I have a tag in my notetaking where I call it a Darwin fact. It’s @Darwinfact. It’s when I come across something that goes against one of my cherished beliefs. I made it this bright yellow color, so it stands out and really jumps off the page at me. And so, periodically, I’ll go back and review my Darwin facts over a period of time because I can just click on that tag and see it. I’ll think about how it conflicts with these cherished beliefs that I hold onto. What I’m trying to do is pull my brain back away from arriving at too firmly at any conclusion, especially when there’s disconfirming evidence staring me right in the face. So, I think it’s just good thought hygiene in general to point out your Darwin facts for yourself, and that way you don’t end up on the confirmation bias superhighway that takes you far from reality.

Tobias: Have you had a Darwin fact change your mind on anything?

Jake: Boy, that’s a good question. Nothing jumps to mind at the moment, but it certainly pulls me back from just the certainty. Like, just dialing back the certainty. Even when I’m feeling very, very strongly about something, a Darwin fact will at least stop and make me to reexamine and recalibrate.

Bill: This reminds me a little bit of Adam Robinson’s concept of looking into things that make no sense to you and things that make a lot of sense. I think where it rhymes is like, the things that make no sense. It’s probably your brain doesn’t fully see the world as the world is.

Tobias: No doubt.

Bill: I remember he had said he’s like, “You can make a lot of money in both those scenarios.” I think, one is because you actually really understand the scenario, and the other is because you’re probably not thinking about it. If you can get yourself to that spot, maybe it helps. Maybe you’d say, this still doesn’t make any sense. Like, what happened to AAMC, that call which I liked. I said I liked that pitch a long time ago, but then they turned in an EV car company, and that I do not like. Thankfully, I was not long. The stock went down 90%.

Tobias: That’s Darwin fact.

Bill: Market didn’t like it either. That is a Darwin fact. But maybe now it’s worth looking at, right? I don’t know.

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