Arachnids and Dramaturgy
In Philosophy class last week, I introduced my new students to the idea of a heuristic-- a quick and dirty problem-solving technique that someone employs to make it through the day-- and I contrasted this with what Bertrand Russell's calls "philosophic contemplation" . . . the latter mindset obviously takes a great deal more time and mental effort, and while we were discussing this, I was searching through my desk drawer for a paper clip and I saw a spider, which I promptly killed with my stapler-- so that I didn't have to feel the crunch-- and then we went back to the problem at hand, that with limited time it is impossible to philosophically contemplate every moment and dilemma that a typical day brings, and so we use heuristics to navigate most of our decisions (what to eat for breakfast, how fast to drive, who to sit with at lunch, whether or not to copy someone's homework, etcetera) and then I revealed to them that there was no spider-- I was acting-- but that many people use a kill-creepy-crawly heuristic instead of thinking deeply about the spider and its right to live . . . most of the students were glad that I didn't actually kill a real spider and they were impressed with my acting ability (I even picked up the nonexistent miniature carcass with a tissue . . . I learned everything I know from Master Thespian Jon Lovitz . . . acting!) but then I told them the story of the groundhog that I euthanized with a shovel and they were properly appalled; anyway, if you want to learn more about heuristics and just how screwy they are, read the new Michael Lewis book The Undoing Project . . . it's the story of two Israeli psychologists-- Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky-- who uncovered fundamental truths about the flaws in economics and the human mind, and there is liberal use of the word "heuristic" . . . I'm halfway through the book, and I'm hoping for an occurrence of the word "ersatz" as well.