October 28, 2011

Hedgehogs Unite

I was a precocious child. I was very confident with myself. I used to do this thing to emphasize my point. On every syllable of whatever I was talking about, I would take my right forefinger and point it into my left palm for emphasis. If I was certain at that point that David Bowie was born in Wisconsin, I would say Dav-POKE-id-POKE-Bow-POKE-ie-POKE-was-POKE-from-Wis-POKE-con-POKE-sin.

That is not to say that David Bowie was actually born in Wisconsin, but that I was sure that he was. In Gardner's terms, I was fox. My previous self wasn't to be trusted. I understand. That kid who was me was often wrong. The problem was that he was too sure of himself, which often led him to be wrong.

It is far better, in the context of this book, to be the proverbial hedgehog. While the fox knows one big thing and focuses all his or her explanations in the context of that big thing, the hedgehog...hedges. There are multiple layers which lead to complexity in forecasting the future events.

The problem, in Gardner's view and as a society, is that the fox is more often wrong. But the fox is often more often of one note, allowing his predictions to be strong and easily explainable. He is often more likely to be spectacularly wrong. But that appears what we want. Sometimes someone who will examine everything is locked out as a pundit because it takes more than a minute and a half or 500 words to make a cogent and balanced point. Hedgehogs have no voice.

Gardner brings in example after example to show western society's [reference for foxes, and their objective lack of ability in predicting the future from past events. He shows that "Experts" are most likely to be wrong about the future in fields that they have extensively studied.

His work is compelling and interesting; my only worry is that the metaphor he borrows to explain the world can overtake him. The theory of the hedgehog and the fox may become his fox so that whatever he sees reinforces his thesis. I may be wrong. I have tried to become a hedgehog from the fox I was once. I can only hope I don't fall in the same traps.