Picture of snow on streets from driver's point of view

Humans have a big problem. It’s called averaging. If you ask a human who the tallest person is in a room the human can easily identify that. But ask a human what is the average height and a human can’t even begin to figure that out. They’ll guess, but they’ll never know.

Humans are very good at tallest, shortest, coldest, warmest, but not at averages. Even when given data to support an average reading of anything at all, humans will abandon the thought of an average when they experience the least or the most. Does any one of us ever think “On average, we are more likely to die of a heart attack and so all my efforts need to go toward thwarting heart problems.” We are more likely to think we need to be prepared for a gun toting bad guy. Even if the likelihood of ever being shot dead for 99.9% of us in the USA is zero.

Our problem is we can’t deal with averages. Our perception, much of it fed by the media, goes off kilter when we see anything that differs from the average. Even the most educated among us fall prey to observed reality and not the reality from data. Computers, on the other hand, do a very good job with averages. If we listened to our computer’s advice, it would most certainly tell us that we pay attention to the sorts of things we are more likely to have visited upon us. All based on averages.

This is why so many simply cannot believe we are in a period of increasing global warming. Once a cold snap occurs in any part of the country, all bets are off for global warming. Too few can understand that while the temperature fluctuates in some parts of the world the overall temperature is increasing. On average.

Just ask the ocean, if only it could speak. When you think about it, a body so vast can very easily be a thermometer for the globe. The ocean averages out temperature over great distances and so it makes sense to use its temperature as the indicator of warming. The ocean would say, pay attention, I’m heating up and I’m losing coral reefs.

Our big problem as humans is turning out to be a big problem.

Jerry Sedgewick



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *