…makes the father rich and the son poor.”

…is an old farming rhyme with a long-term lesson.

Short-term lessons are easier to learn, because consequences follow quickly. But long-term lessons are harder, because people forget the cause, don’t see the effect, or don’t notice the link.

Long-term lessons are important. The side effects of new technology emerge after decades, and natural systems like forests react to change over centuries.

But, today, we take shorter and shorter perspectives: our mechanisms for long-term learning have been eroded.

Politicisation of the public service means a new government brings new people who are replaced before they can learn long-term lessons.

Faster job turnover everywhere has the same effect.

Company mergers disrupt the learning of some employees and jettison the experience of others.

And, as the pace of life gets faster, longer-term effects recede from our awareness.

Today, we’re less likely to learn long-term lessons when we need them more.

When a single explanation doesn’t work…

…we use two!

A beam of light is a wave of energy, and it’s a stream of particles.

A vigorous economy needs competition, but a humane society needs cooperation.

We often need alternative sets of ideas to understand things, but there are no guidelines for using them, and no list of common mistakes.

The rules of logic have helped with single sets of ideas for centuries. Perhaps it’s time to work out the rules of effective thinking when we need a choice of explanations?




Science describes reality in ways we can understand, and its descriptions and predictions often work.

But, if we’d evolved with different sense organs and different ways of perceiving, our science would be different.

We don’t uncover the raw truths of existence – we work out a story that we can understand and which seems, to us, to work.


Commercial news attracts an audience by reinforcing prejudice and generating fear.

And they present new ideas the same way.

Existing prejudice is probably against a new idea, so reinforcing it will encourage rejection.

And if it’s presented with fear, it’s likely to be fear of the new idea.

So new ideas will be rejected because commercial news media have to attract an audience.

And so new ideas which identify problems and provide solutions, won’t be available.






Religious violence in France in the 1500s came from conflicting interpretations of the bible.

Both sides believed that God was infallible. The writer Montaigne agreed but pointed out that, unlike God, humans were fallible and might misunderstand God’s wishes.

Montaigne thought that, if the rival groups recognised their own fallibility, they would become more tolerant.

Today, it’s been suggested that recognising human fallibility could reduce tension between Christians and Moslems.

But intolerant, aggressive, people aren’t likely to listen to new ideas.

Fallibility won’t work unless it’s accepted -within the context of the religion –  before conflict arises.



Thomas Malthus was a population pessimist. The world is finite, he said, but the population keeps growing and so, sooner or later, we will hit a limit.

But Thomas has been proven wrong time after time. Human ingenuity has repeatedly avoided the problem. And, with their persistent history of failure, population pessimists are flying in the face of logic and experience.

But are they?

Continue reading


Every day, people try to persuade you.

They want you to buy their product, watch their TV channel, or vote for their party.

Persuasion is a technology. And it’s dangerous because it’s invisible. We see medical technology when we take a drug, communications technology when we search the internet. We know they’re there.

But persuasive technology is different. It works best when we don’t notice it.

And, unlike other technologies, we don’t use it on ourselves: other people use it on us!

We need to defend ourselves from unwanted persuasion, and so we need to know when it’s happening to us.

A name for the technology will help – because calling it a name will make it easier to recognise, discuss and resist.

‘Persuology’ is easy to explain:

“It’s how they get us to swallow their ideas!”


In biology, the longer the relationship between parasite and host, the smoother for both; because each has learned to cope with the other.

Perhaps the longer the relationship between the elite of a society and the people, the smoother the mechanisms to make people conform? And the more people’s attitudes support compliance?

Are Western democracies stable because they combine well evolved mechanisms and co-evolved attitudes?

And does introducing democracy into other countries disrupt the co-evolution of their institutions and attitudes?