The 10 Best Ideas I Learned in 2022
A distillation of the year's wisdom
For me, 2022 was a year of learning. To prepare for my new life as a professional writer, I spent much of my time scouring books and articles for compelling ideas, each of which I diligently noted.
From among the hundreds of ideas whose names I learned this year, I’ve selected 10 of the most thought-provoking. They are presented below, together with links for further reading (just click on the titles).
We're better at solving other people's problems than our own, because detachment yields objectivity. But Kross et al (2014) found that viewing oneself in the 3rd person yields the same detachment, so when trying to help yourself, imagine you're helping a friend.
2. Cunningham's Law:
The best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question, but to post the wrong answer, because people are more interested in criticizing others than helping them.
3. Bonhoeffer's Theory of Stupidity:
Evil can be guarded against. Stupidity cannot. And the world's few evil people have little power without the help of the world's many stupid people. As a result, stupidity is a far greater threat than evil.
There's nothing constant about a person. Habits are picked up & dropped. Beliefs asserted & refuted. Dreams forged & shattered. Passions ignited & extinguished. The self is a work-in-progress being constantly rewritten.
And yet we’re all judged as if we’re final.
5. Gibson's Law:
“For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD.”
In courtroom trials and political debates, anyone can find a subject-matter expert who supports their view, because having a PhD doesn’t make someone right, it often just makes them more skilled at being wrong.
The more we eliminate struggles from our lives, the more we create artificial struggles – sports, video games, Twitter culture wars – because the mind wants peace, but needs conflict.
7. Shirky Principle:
To ensure survival, institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution. For example, arms suppliers lobby politicians to push for new wars, and light bulb manufacturers deliberately make their bulbs shorter-lived so you buy them more often.
According to multiple studies, what best predicts whether someone becomes a leader? Their experience? Their IQ?
The amount of time they spend talking. It doesn't even matter what they say, just how much they say it.
We suck at picking leaders.
The greatest evils come not from those seeking to do bad, but from those seeking to do good and believing the ends justify the means. Ironically, few things justify the immoral treatment of others more than the belief that you're more moral than them.
10. Noise Bottlenecks:
Consuming online content makes us feel like we're learning, but 90% of the content is useless junk—small talk, clickbait, marketing—which crowds out actual info from our minds. As such, we feel we're getting smarter as we get stupider.
And that’s it for now. If you’d like to share these ideas, or read what others are saying about them, here’s the link to the Twitter version of this list:
Thanks for reading, and happy new year. I’ll have much more to show you in 2023.
I’m favoring Substack newsletters like yours over the general internet experience. I’m finding that I learn more from thoughtful writing than the “90% of useless crap” out there. Keep them coming, please.
This was great, thanks. This was linked in the Morning Dispatch newsletter.