Of course, you have one. We all do. A theory about everything.
You’re waiting for 7:20 train into the city. Your theory is that every day, the train comes and brings you to work. Today, the train doesn’t come. That’s because it’s Sunday, and the train doesn’t run on the same schedule. Oh. So you’ve learned something, and now you have a new theory, which is that the train comes at 7:20 on weekdays only. And you’ll keep working with that theory, and most of the time, it’ll help you get what you want.
And you have a theory that putting a card into the ATM delivers money.
And you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you’ll have a good interaction.
And on and on.
Many theories, proposals about what might work in the future.
We can fall into a few traps with our theories about humans:
- We can come to believe that they are ironclad guarantees, not merely our best guess about the future.
- We can refuse to understand the mechanics behind a theory and instead accept the word of an authority figure. If we fail to do the math on our own, we lose agency and the ability to develop an even more nuanced understanding of how the world works.
- We can become superstitious, ignoring evidence that runs counter to our theory and instead doubling down on random causes and their unrelated effects.
- We can hesitate to verbalize our theories, afraid to share them with others, particularly those we deem as higher in authority or status.
- We can go to our jobs and do all four of these things at once.
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