Entertainment

We're not wired for science

SOMEWHERE in the crowded cocktail party of economic ideas, there’s one crotchety old git sulking around the back ruining everything for everyone. People with expensive educations call this person 'Homo Economicus'.

'Homo Economicus' is an always rational and utterly imaginary human who economists use to predict human behaviour. As useful as this fiction is, unwary economists are then stumped when they experience real humans. Irrational, confused, misinformed humans. 

We’re a disappointing lot.

Between the work, the kids, the bills, the socialising and the sleeping, there’s no time to keep ourselves learning. There’s too much information and most of it looks conflicting and structureless. Even when we do find the information we’re looking for, our ability to judge the information’s usefulness and reliability might not be enough to stop us looking like idiots later on.

Enter Mike McRae and his new book, Tribal Science.

Tribal Science makes one basic but important point - our minds evolved to satisfy our need to communicate with others in our tribe, not for processing maths or modelling physics. The problem with that, McRae says, is that our tribal wiring means our intuition and common sense won’t help us with useful knowledge of the world around us. We could be led to mistake bad ideas for good ones and, in some cases, dangerous ideas for safe ones.

Every teenager needs to be given a copy of Tribal Science as they walk out of their final classes. Any adult that hasn’t been educated in the need for logical reasoning and the proper application of skeptical thought should go out and buy it. I don’t say this lightly - the last thing I want to do is encourage people to buy things they don’t need.

You need this book.

The basics of thinking usefully, thinking critically, and thinking at all, are all set out for the reader in easy narratives. I’m going to come right out and say that if we were to give this to school kids, we’d have far fewer problems in our society.

Over the past three thousand years we've learned remarkable things about the world around us, but we've also learned how to avoid making mistakes in our thinking. These are the lessons that McRae focuses on here. 

McRae has collected an entertaining catalogue of history’s most instructive breakthroughs and stuff-ups to illustrate the kind of thinking we need to have if we’re going to support a society as large as the one we have today. Again, our minds just weren’t wired for 7 billion tribe-mates.

It helps that McRae works for the CSIRO and has taught Science to children and adults of all levels. 

The book addresses notoriously tricky issues. Religion, climate change, vaccination, marriage, and homosexuality are all picked apart from a skeptical, analytical, and history-minded point of view. When I first read the book I was amazed to read how politely McRae managed to deal with these issues, especially when many in the scientific and skeptical communities are losing patience as they wait for the rest of us to catch up.

McRae writes with the easy yet fascinated voice that one might expect from Brian Green, and getting from one end of Tribal Science to the other won’t be a problem. If you have a burning desire to be right all the time or if you’ve ever tried to express your opinion but been shot down, Tribal Science is the ideal place to start self-educating. You won’t find everything here, but you’ll at least know where to look.    

You can purchase Mike McRae's Tribal Science at Dymocks, bookshops that aren't going out of business, or online here.

Topics:  book, book review, science


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Shots fired at three cars in south-east Queensland

Police believe the gunfire came from "another moving vehicle".

Daffodils a symbol of hope

CARE BEARS: Judy Hancock is volunteering today for Daffodil Day.

LOCAL volunteers time to help raise vital funds.

Coaching pays off

RISING STAR: Kerry Galhos with State MP Shannon Fentiman and tennis coach James Rapkins.

Sporting potential realised during volunteer trip.

Latest deals and offers

Stealing, Forestdale

Police think they could help solve a crime.

Daffodils a symbol of hope

CARE BEARS: Judy Hancock is volunteering today for Daffodil Day.

LOCAL volunteers time to help raise vital funds.

Coaching pays off

RISING STAR: Kerry Galhos with State MP Shannon Fentiman and tennis coach James Rapkins.

Sporting potential realised during volunteer trip.

Tapas: It's a Friday thing

TAPAS ANYONE? Tianna Dencher, Salima Muzima and Nedra Andersen at Harmony on Carmody.

$5 tapas night showcases diversity.

Browns Plains theft

Call Crimestoppers if you can help.

Stealing, Hillcrest

Do you recognise the person pictured?

Die-hard fan's 34 magic Gympie Muster years

STICK AROUND FOR A BEER: Mal Williams has been at every Gympie Muster for 34 years.

Mal Williams has only missed one Muster in 35 years - the first one

MOVIE REVIEW: Life on the Road

Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith and Foregone Conclusion (Steve Clarke, Andy Burrows, Stuart Baxter Wilkinson, Michael Clarke) in a scene from David Brent: Life on the Road.

Ricky Gervais has brought David Brent back to life on the big screen

Jessica Alba wants tequila shots served at her funeral

Businesswoman and actor Jessica Alba

There won't be mourning at this funeral

Tom Hiddleston's Instagram account hacked

Actor Tom Hiddleston

Thor star the latest celebrity targetted by hackers

Charlize Theron's son dresses up as Frozen character

Actor Charlize Theron

Star's son spotted dressed a beloved Frozen character

BOOKS: Food for thought in Caroline Beecham's latest novel

Maggie's Kitchen by Caroline Beecham is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99.

New novel reminds readers that bravery exists in many forms

TELEVISION: New show is a Survivor, for now

Jonathan LaPaglia hosts the TV series Australian Survivor.

WHAT happens when a new show with a big budget flops?

REVEALED: Pat Rafter's $18m Coast house on the market

Check out the photos of the Coast's most expensive property for sale

The "correction we had to have" in Gladstone's rentals

UPWARD MARCH: The rental vacancy rate in Gladstone has improved for the first time in more than a year, providing a confidence boost in the market.

Vacancy rates improve with signs that things are getting betterF

ISLAND FOR SALE: Cheap Fraser Coast island drops price again

Suna Island in the Great Sandy Strait will be auctioned by Ray White Hervey Bay on Saturday morning.

This is the cheapest island you will find for sale in Australia

How a family home can fit on a 250sq m block

This is what you can build on 250m2.

Here's the floor plan of a home built on 250sq m

$100m plan for Curtis Island 'world class' luxury resort

$100 million resort: Top views at Turtle Street at Curtis Island.

"At the moment we think it meets all the town planning approvals.”

Noosa mayor on "red alert" over planning court decision

Mayor Tony Wellington hands down his first budget.

Mayor upset at lack of say about look and feel of Noosa