For content related to psychology, how we learn, how we make decisions.

Good conversations

It’s both possible and important to have good quality conversations with people with whom we disagree. There are some simple (but not easy) principles to keep in mind:


  • Be sure your goal is to connect and understand - and not to change minds.  Listen to learn, not to prepare a rebuttal. People understand and use words and phrases in very different ways. Don't assume you understand what the other person means: "I want to be sure we are both talking about the same thing. Could you help me understand what you mean when you say 'X'?"


No, I am NOT a pessimist

Most of my family and many of my closest friends call me a pessimist. I disagree. I believe I am a pro-active optimist, someone whose default is that things will work out in the end - but not automatically. Only if we do our part to ensure success.

When I challenge their characterization of me as a pessimist, the response is generally along the lines of: “You always assume the worst possible thing will probably occur.”  But I am not assuming that at all.


"A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator the smaller the fraction." 
~ Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) quote in Howard Eves, Return to Mathematical Circles

Responding to the 'but 99% survive' argument

Among the many candidates for arguments against taking action to protect our families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, communities and country from COVID, none make me angrier than the "but 99% survive" gambit. This argument is numerically illiterate (Mark Twain said “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so”), racist, ableist, and inhumane. Let me explain.

My proposed treatment for our COVID-19 pandemic

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across multiple spheres of American society is a novel event. Some have used the term black swan, Taleb's term for an event that can't be anticipated because it is outside the realm of experience. I prefer to think of it as a gray rhino, Michele Wucker's term for the big and obvious thing coming at you that you don't want to acknowledge. I think of this as a threat to our society writ large, not just as a threat to our economy or even just to public health. I think those narrow framings guarantee inadequate analysis and response.