Discussion between Matt Ridley and Bill Gates - "The Playful Musings of Illogical Optimists"

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Discussion between Matt Ridley and Bill Gates - "The Playful Musings of Illogical Optimists"

A short piece breaking down the glaring logical flaws in a recent "discussion" between Matt Ridley and Bill Gates. The discussion consisted of a book by Ridley entitled The Rational Optimist, a book review by Gates in the WSJ and a response to the review by Ridley. Here is the first section:


     I recently came across a "discussion" between Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, and Bill Gates in John Maudlin's "E-Letter" about the nature of optimism and pessimism. Ridley generally argues that our "success" as a species up to this point has been primarily a result of our inherent ability to trade with each other, as evidenced by the very early use of rare objects far away from the sources needed to produce them. He further argues that, consequently, humans have continued to increase their collective prosperity throughout the ages, despite many dire predictions of impending doom that were being made all the while. Bill Gates has written a book review in which he quarrels with a few specific examples that Ridley had provided (problems in Africa and Climate Change), but he essentially agrees with Ridley's main point that many people are "overly concerned with potential problems", especially in "rich countries over the last several centuries".

     This so-called discussion between Ridley and Gates is, in fact, not much more than a simple back-and-forth between two people who hold self-contradictory views and know little about the topics they discuss. That statement may seem harsh, but reality can and has been harsh, a fact casually dismissed by the writers as being "too pessimistic" for their personal liking. The response by Gates is an amazing example of how human beings, those creatures who have historically been so "successful", are also plagued with many logical fallacies and cognitive biases. In fairness to Gates, these are not isolated flaws limited to the minds of a few American billionaries, but a pervasive feature of human beings in all complex societies around the world. Nicholas Nassim Taleb has deftly illustrated this point in his books The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, which I highly recommend.

Full piece - http://peakcomplexity.blogspot.com/2010/11/playful-musings-of-illogical-optimists.html

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