…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.


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?

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