Adams on Trump

getting-itScott Adams is the author of the comic strip “Dilbert.” A year ago Adams gave Trump a 98% chance of winning the presidency when experts were at 2%. His prediction was based on the persuasion filter, Adams considers Trump to be a “master persuader” based on Adams’ longtime interest in the art of persuasion and hypnosis.

I voted for Hillary and was as surprised as most people that Trump won. I’m pretty sure Adams didn’t vote for Trump either. But he has an interesting take on why Trump won and what will be different about Trump after he assumes the presidency. Here’s my edited version of a recent Scott Adams blogpost:

We live under a consistent illusion that facts and logic guide our decisions. They don’t.

I mean that in the limited sense of decision-making. If you make the wrong decision, the facts can kill you. That’s not in debate. I’m talking about the process of arriving at a decision.

The exception is when there’s no emotional dimension to a decision. For example, if a mechanic says it’ll cost you $1,000 to fix your car, and you can see no other option that makes sense, the facts and logic guided your decision to approve the repairs. But emotion-free decisions are unusual. You rarely see emotion-free decisions when it comes to politics, relationships, or even your career.

A Master Persuader – and anyone trained in hypnosis or persuasion in general – knows that humans don’t use facts and reason to make important decisions. Most persuaders prefer sticking to the facts when possible, but that is mostly to avoid looking like idiots. They know that sticking to facts will not persuade.

Trump just takes things one step further. He doesn’t pretend the facts matter when they don’t. He does the things that matter and ignores the things that don’t.

He just has a better idea than the public and the media about what matters. For example…

The public thinks facts matter for decisions. They don’t.

The public thinks being “presidential” matters for getting elected. It didn’t.

The public thinks Trump should have studied the issues more deeply. And he will, as needed. But he didn’t need detailed policy knowledge to get elected (evidently).

The experts said Trump needed more ground game. He didn’t.

I hope you see the pattern already. Trump ignores the things that don’t matter – even to the point of looking the fool – and pays deep attention to what DOES matter.

When Trump was running for election, facts and reasons and policy details didn’t matter to the outcome. He knew that. I knew that. Every trained persuader knew it. But the general public did not, and that’s the realization that is beginning to dawn on the world.

Once in office, facts and reason do matter more. Trump is moving from the job of talking about issues to the job of doing something about them. In his new role, he will pay attention to details and facts and reason as much as humanly possible, with the help of advisors. You already see this transformation happening as Trump moderates his positions on waterboarding, prosecuting Clinton, and even climate change.

If you have not studied persuasion it makes perfect sense to be in a panic about a Trump presidency. You see a pattern of irrational-looking behavior from Trump during the election and you assume the trend will continue into the presidency. But if you understand the tools of persuasion you see a Master Persuader ignoring what doesn’t matter and paying close attention to what does, for the benefit of the country. That is literally the safest situation I can imagine.

As president, facts do matter. Reason matters. Logic matters. But persuasion does too – and it is still hugely important to the job of being president. Don’t expect Trump to embrace any facts that are not important to “making America great again.” But I do think you can expect facts to influence Trump when they do matter.

If you are worried how a President Trump will address climate change, here’s what to expect. You can expect him to dissect the topic in terms of the facts that matter and the ones that don’t. You can expect him to eventually agree with scientists who say human activity is contributing to climate change. But when it comes to the prediction models, and America’s ability to fix the problem at a reasonable cost, expect him to be more skeptical than the general public.

That isn’t crazy. Complicated models that try to predict the future rarely succeed.

I don’t believe human brains evolved to understand reality at an objective level. The best we can do is pick filters that do a good job of predicting what’s ahead. The Persuasion Filter predicted Trump’s win when most other models did not. Now I use the same filter to predict that Trump will turn from totally ignoring facts (because facts don’t matter to elections) to embracing the facts that do matter to the country.

Are you moving around enough?

Are you moving around enough? tiredThe takeaway from a new study of modern day hunter gatherers, the Hadza, is that our bodies need and respond to the kind of physical demands that these tribespeople still engage in most days.

It’s not too surprising that they move a lot, typically more than two hours a day. The men walk briskly searching for game animals off and on most days, and the women find, dig up, heft and prepare fruits, vegetables and other foods.

But, the vast majority of their activities are moderate. The tribespeople rarely run or are otherwise vigorously active.

They remain active, well into middle age and beyond, even those in their 70s moving as much as or more than the young.

The tribespeople have enviable heart health. The Hadza typically present low blood pressure and excellent cholesterol profiles across their life spans.

Some of their cardiovascular health is no doubt a result of diet, but the data intimate that the Hadzas’ active lifestyle, consisting of plenty of walking, lifting and generally being up and doing, helps to protect their hearts against disease.

Other parts of the Hadzas’ lives remain difficult and chancy. There’re real risks for untreated infections and illnesses, accidental deaths and no access to dental care.

These are risks that people in the industrial world have mitigated. But we now have the diseases of civilization which we might also be able to mitigate by following the Hadzas’ tendency of moving for a couple of hours a day. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily intense  or hard.

I’ve excerpted the information above from a recent NYT article about recent studies of the Hadza people.

Sugar Daddies

sexworkerIt’s a new twist on an old story. Money isn’t everything (as long as you have some). Operating in our modern world requires money, especially in some of the expensive big cities young people tend to flock to.

The internet and social media increase the opportunities for making money by using your body. It’s easier than ever to be a sex worker or a consumer, a sugar daddy, too.

An article claimed a young woman usually charged her sugar daddy around $400 for an encounter and added, “The guys don’t like talking about money, so they’ll just like leave money in your purse.” I guess people like to pretend it’s not a business transaction.

She seemed surprised to find that the men, although generally nice, didn’t actually respect her. “They’d never consider a monogamous relationship with someone who’d need to do this to survive. They see you as beneath them, desperate.”

Young artists and musicians used to go to New York City looking for a creative community with broad possibilities. But now, the city has become unaffordable for most people especially young struggling artists. So sex work becomes an option for some.

Payments are evolving too. One sugar baby said many now use the Amazon “Wish Lists” that sex workers set up for their clients to use. To avoid paying cash through PayPal or other traceable channels, clients can pay with gifts like iPhones, laptops, or flat-screen TV’s.


2016’s Surprise

blank-flagOur brains evolved to keep us alive so we could procreate. Registering the objective reality around it isn’t the highest priority. So the movie in your head is likely different from mine even though we’re both able to survive, and maybe flourish.

Lots of Americans are in a bad mood. More than we thought. There’re the lost jobs, flat incomes, too much political correctness, and of course the diminishing power of white folks generally. The Democratic party alienated about 14 percent of their 2008 voting base.

Most Americans don’t make a decision because of a number or a policy, they want a story. Trump came along with a story about not to letting China and Mexico freely drink our made-in-the-USA milkshake. And lots of people liked his story. Apparently it was even good enough to win over some women, Latinos and African Americans – like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.

Trump won fairly. Maybe his psychological need to be perceived well, combined with magnitude of being the president, will lead him to make good governing decisions.

If you’re pessimistic, and the bad thing you’re worrying about happens, then you just wind up living it twice. So let’s see what he does, because actions speak louder than words.


Are audiobooks cheating?

images-1The short answer is no.

A 1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension.

From the perspective of the mental processes involved, there’s no real difference between listening to a book and reading it.

Some people feel that listening to a book is cheating because the listener got the reward without putting in the work. Also, maybe you’re missing out on something, or it’s not that the reading experience could be better for you.

The feeling is that you’re somehow cheating because you’ve avoided the difficult part, using your eyes, implying that to your brain, listening is less “work” than reading.

That is the case when you’re young. But it stops being true somewhere around the fifth grade. Listen on.


nasa-no-godsA couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door last weekend promoting an introductory meeting in a nearby town.

What I wanted to say was, “Religion seems like a short pier selling itself as a bridge to somewhere most people wouldn’t want to visit. And whatever solid wood of founding concepts the pier had been made of is long gone, replaced by layers and layers of encrusting barnacles. It’s a pier of barnacles that collapses under the weight of any sort of clear-eyed scrutiny.”

But I just said, “Thanks.” and took their flyer, I felt sorry for the two middle-aged ladies sweating in the midday Mexican sun trying to be helpful in their own way, and besides, we’d all already chosen our world views.

Deep Learning

stay-at-homeComputing power is changing our lives for a few decades and we’re on the brink of a significant jump in computer power form artificial intelligence (AI). A recent article in Fortune magazine titled “Why Deep Learning is Suddenly Changing Your Life” highlighted what’s on the way.

Here’re some interesting takeaways from the article:

Within AI is machine learning, enabling computers to get better at tasks with practice. And within machine learning is deep learning which allows computers to train themselves using multi-layered neural networks and vast quantities of data.

Does that mean it’s time to brace for the inflection point when superintelligent machines start improving themselves without human involvement? Not just yet. 

Neural nets are good at recognizing patterns—sometimes as good as or better than we are at it. But they can’t reason. Unsupervised learning remains untracked.

For example, while a radiologist might see thousands of images in his life, a computer can “see” millions. 

One researcher says, “It’s not crazy to imagine that this image problem could be solved better by computers, just because they can plow through so much more data than a human could ever do.” The potential advantages are not just greater accuracy and faster analysis, but democratization of services. As the technology becomes standard, eventually every patient will benefit.

And what about better speech recognition? In China whose main language, Mandarin, is difficult to type into a device so speech recognition for Mandarin speakers would be a big help.

And looking to the near future an insider predicted, “A lot of S&P 500 CEOs wished they had started thinking sooner than they did about their Internet strategy. Five years from now there’ll be a number of S&P 500 CEOs wishing they’d started thinking earlier about their AI strategy.”

“AI is the new electricity, just as 100 years ago electricity transformed industry after industry, AI will now do the same.”

It’s already great

prayerThere’re always people telling us how crappy our lives are. Are you pessimistic or optimistic? Life is actually getting better,safer, and more free in the big picture. What time in the past would you like to have lived in (as a regular person)?

Be careful, don’t choose a time period with a strong chance of killing you. There are some not so great times in the past that you could find yourself in.

Consider this period from a long time ago. “Around 72,000 B.C., a volcanic super-eruption with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs occurred in Indonesia. A six inch layer of volcanic ash settled over Asia, there were traces of ash as far as East Africa, the homeland of humans. Skies darkened and global temperatures fell, creating a ‘long night’ lasting for many years. DNA testing indicates that the human population dropped to between 3,000 and 10,000 people.”

Pretty grim. But some people made it through that bottleneck and all 7 billion people today are descended from that tiny group of survivors. Eventually we discovered agriculture, leading to a life that generally wasn’t great for common folk.

“In the year 1820, life expectancy less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less than 20% of the population was literate.”

After the industrial age got under way, followed by the information age, things began to get better for common folk, at least from a 30,000 foot perspective.

“Now human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty and over 80% of people are literate.”

The strongest force enabling human progress has been the fast pace of and  broad reach of technology.

Surprise is the key element of creativity and entrepreneurship defying every econometric model and socialist scheme. Creativity can’t be planned. Most entrepreneurs, from Sam Walton to Elon Musk, didn’t get to the top of a hierarchy. They created something new. Progress comes from the creative minority. And that’s growing.

Economic potential never drops because knowledge always rises. Technology (knowledge embedded in machines) gets better because we invest in research and development and never replace a good machine with an inferior one. Plus the abilities of the average worker keeps rising because average educational and training levels continue to rise.

The trend is that things get better. It’s already pretty great and if history is any indication of the future, it’s just going to get greater. At least in the big picture first and then for the common man.

The bronut

donutBear with me for a minute before I get to the bronut.

Consider the human gastrointestinal tract. Technically it’s not part of our “insides” even though it passes through us.

It’s more like the hole in a donut that passes through the donut.

Looking at a donut, think of the top of the donut hole as your lips and the bottom of the lipsdonut hole as the hole in your bottom. Stretch that donut vertically until it’s about six feet tall. Along the way, feel free to extrude pairs of arms, legs , and ears, and whatever else you’d like,  from the glazed outside of the donut. What should this thing be called?

A few years ago, a French pastry chef in NYC started making donuts out of croissant dough and called them “cronuts.”  I’m calling my human inspired donut a “bronut.” It’s catchier than saying “sapiennut” or something like that. Mathematicians call the donut shape a “torus” but that’s not evocative enough.

Anyway a bronut is just a way to envision something that’s in us but at the same time also not part of us .

It’s mostly pretty good

get-paranoidSeth Godin writes one of the few blogs I’ve followed for years. He has a huge tribe of fans and I’m one of them. When you see him on stage in a video presentation, Seth is a skinny bald guy rocking baggy shirts and suits that are too big on him and his voice is kinda nasal, so it must be substance over style that’s propelled him.

Another blog I follow is Marginal Revolution by the economist Tyler Cowen. He’s another case of substance trumping nerdy professor style. He posts so many ideas it’s hard to believe.

I think there’s never been a better time to be alive and living in a modern economy even with its real and often imagined ups and downs.

Here’re two quick posts from Seth followed by one from Tyler:


Making a new decision based on new information by Seth Godin

This is more difficult than it sounds. To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.(But of course, you weren’t wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you’re aware of something new.)

To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult. (But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making).

And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. “What will I tell my friends?”


Differences by Seth Godin

For as long as we’ve been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, “those people.”

It seems as though it’s a lot more productive to look for something in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters… Because there’s always more in common than different.


Ford fact of the day by Tyler Cowen from Bill Vlasic’s NYT article

Mr. Trump and others have criticized Ford for creating jobs in Mexico rather than in the United States. Seldom mentioned by Ford’s critics, though, is an essential fact. The Wayne factory will remain fully staffed, with 3,700 workers, to build what Ford really needs now: more trucks and S.U.V.s.

There’s no doubt that Nafta has played a role in the migration of many American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Before that, US automakers barely had a presence in Mexico. Now, Mexico’s car-making work force is about 675,000 strong.

But many factors determine the number of auto-making jobs in the United States — a figure that according to federal labor statistics has actually grown by 200,000 jobs, to around 900,000, since the recession gave way to economic recovery in 2009.