Childlike Eyes

I was talking a lady recently who said that she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to bring a child into a world like this. That got me thinking. What world is she seeing?

The world we see is filtered by both our expectations and that which we choose to see. Clearly what she saw was a world that was not safe for children. We humans are facing a great upheaval in the way we do things. We can no longer rely on fossil fuels to power our devices as both the fossil fuels will run out and our atmosphere will fill up with carbon dioxide, creating a run away climate change disaster. The world is full of wars, terror and horror. People are being lost in alternate computer driven realities, giving up their lives in the pursuit of virtual goods with no inherent meaning. Clearly bringing a child into this chaos would be bad.

Yet is this a fair assessment of the world? Two hundred years ago we humans barely relied on fossil fuels. Our mode of transport was foot or hoof. Running out of fossil fuels is barely a blip on our timeline. Our atmosphere faces a great challenge, and so do we humans as a result of it. However consider that we are capable or surviving upheavals. We humans are adaptive. Beyond changing our current living practices, migrating to more habitable places and limiting the number of children we have, we humans should survive it. While the survival of humans will require us to change, at what time in our past have we humans not adapted to the world we find ourselves in? The world is full of wars, violence and terror, but there are less wars every year, less violence and less to be terrified about. The little that is left certainly is represented more in the news, but that is the nature of ‘The News’.

I do not see that the world today is any worse than the world of 80 yeas ago. If we look at 80 years ago, the Western World was recovering from World War One. It was in the great depression of the Western countries. The Eastern countries and other parts of the world mostly were not affected. There was the Spanish Flu, which killed millions of people, although less than what the war killed.

One of the greatest cliches is to compare now to the past and find both that it was better then and that times were harder. “Back in my day” usually leads to stating that now is bad and soft. If this cliché were perpetually true, then humanity would never have progressed beyond stone tools. Clearly this isn’t true, so perhaps the cliché is false.

To what point do we keep insisting that the world is such a gloomy and dangerous place? That this is no place to raise a child? Why do people miss the beauty all around us?

I put it down to confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a human trait of promoting in our memories the events that confirm our theories and demoting in our memories those events which contradict our expectations. It is how every sound we hear at night confirms the danger we fear, the look in the ladies eyes that convey disgust and the cherry picked evidence that proves we have cured cancer, again.

In the case of violence in our world, either from man or nature, confirmation bias can be accelerated by a dirty sample. A dirty sample is where we believe the evidence before our eyes is fairly representative of nature, but we are wrong. A good example is a deck of cards. Shuffled properly, the deck should give us a random card when we split the deck, that is, the odds of drawing an Ace should be 1 in 52. If we stack the deck though, the odds change, and if we tamper with the deck, removing some cards and adding others, the odds can change to a certainty. A deck of just Aces means we will get an Ace.

We humans like to know what is going on in the world and we tend to pass on information that we think is important. Often we don’t tell each other the nice stuff, we warn each other of the bad stuff. This is a survival trait – I would rather know there is a saber tooth tiger in that field over there than some lovely flowers. If there is no saber tooth tiger in the field, feel free to tell me about the flowers, but really, can we get on with the bit where you tell me where all the danger is so I can just survive?

In the modern age, the most commonly used method of communicating danger is referred to as “The News”. Media companies cover this in many different formats, but it mostly represents the same thing, whether it is a free to air television, cable television, the radio, news blogs, social networks and so forth, people are more interested in hearing about the bad stuff over the good stuff. We like to be heard, so we will tend to tell the bad stuff.

If we base our reality on this dirty sample, then the world is going to seem to be filled full of bad stuff. The world isn’t actually that bad. I am fairly confident that for every negative thing reported in The News the reports could easily find ten things that are positive. They don’t report on these as people are less interested in hearing about them, so they will sell less copy and thus make less money. While there are a few web sites dedicated to only reporting good news, they are swamped in numbers by the web sites reporting bad news.

If we think that the world is frightening, then look around us, we will see a plethora of evidence to support our view. Yet the evidence is a dirty sample, biasing our information and confirming our fears. It takes strength and courage to turn your back on these dirty samples and go looking at the world again, without the bias we have built up and see the world as a child sees it.

If we see the world through childlike eyes, we will see that it is actually worth bringing a new child into this world. Just not too many please.