Apes With The Ability To Reason – 7 Takeaways No. 141

Chimp at a typewriter.
(Image: Midjourney)

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1. “You can manipulate the numbers to show what you want.”

The Land of Imperfect Data – Om Malik – (Blog)

This piece is primarily about Elon Musk and Twitter/X. It questions the data so often used by … well, by all sides, honestly, when talking about the issues associated with the social media service.

What got my attention, though, was an embedded video (here) demonstrating the power of leading questions. Not only can “facts” and numbers be twisted to a desired outcome,

Given the speed of our news cycle, everyone knows that no one will take the time to dig deeper.

That might be the deepest problem of all.

Do this: Dig deeper.

2. “We are never, ever, ever static.”

The Stunning Power of Living the Question: Why Not Knowing is Knowing How to Live – Julia Hubbel – (Walkabout Saga newsletter)

This speaks to a couple of threads I return to frequently: embracing change, and accepting that the world is not black and white. Hubbel frames it as accepting that some questions are always unanswered in the moment, and possibly forever. We would do well to embrace that uncertainty.

.. foregoing the need for absolute answers, simplistic answers,  is the invitation to real personal growth.

In a world full of issues to which people are flocking towards simple yes/no, good/evil, us/them answers, it’s a challenge to be sure. But personal growth … heck, societal growth … requires we embrace the nuance and uncertainty and accept that change is constant.

Do this: Work to become more comfortable with uncertainty.

3. “There’s always the opportunity for a moment of levity”

Annual Birthday Check-In: 10 Lessons from My 32nd Year of Life – Polina Pompliano – (The Profile)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for lists, and particularly lists of lessons learned, no matter the age of the list author. As always, there’s good stuff here.

If there’s a theme to this list, it’s paying attention to, enjoying, and acting on the moment.

You can’t think your way to happiness. You have to act.

Extraordinary moments are simply ordinary moments laced with context.

Do this: Act.

4. “That most terrifying of all things, a clean slate”

1999 Mount Holyoke Commencement Speech – Anna Quindlen – (James Clear blog)

This comes from the Pompliano post from the previous takeaway. Quindlen’s theme is, ultimately, to quit trying to chase perfection. It always involves living up to someone else’s expectations. Embrace your own uniqueness instead.

But nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations. The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.

Another quote that struck me was “A little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance”. Quindlen is talking about self-directed thoughts, but honestly, it’s great advice for life.

Do this: Be yourself.

5. “Write every day. Every … freaking … day!”

There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block –  Randy Cassingham – (This Is True)

Randy’s a friend, and while I don’t think he would put it exactly this way, years ago he chose not to believe in writer’s block. So he doesn’t have it. As a result, he’s coming up on 30 years of continuous online publication.

No matter what anyone tells you, there’s just no such thing as writer’s block. A writer who “can’t write” simply has nothing to say. If you always have something to say, you’ll never have a “block.” It really is that simple.

Wanna-be writers use being “blocked” as an excuse to not write.

I was reminded of this essay when I ran across a recent Austin Kleon piece that takes a slightly different direction: Writer’s block is trying to tell you something. Yes, one thing it might try to tell you is “you have nothing to say”, but there are additional possibilities as well.

Do this: If you call yourself a writer, write. (IMO: we’re all writers.)

6. “One tiny square of a map”

Fundamental Attribution Error, Nature’s Superfood, & More – Sahil Bloom – (The Curiosity Chronicle)

Fundamental Attribution Error is a cognitive bias whereby humans tend to hold others to the fire (while giving ourselves a break).

We know enough about ourselves to rationalize our behavior. Yet, while knowing little about others, we attribute their actions to their very character.

It’s dangerous to use very limited information to create an overall picture of an individual. You’ve seen one tiny square of a map and believe you know the map in its entirety.

Bloom’s advice boils down to awareness. That’s important, but I’d put a finer spin on it.

Do this: Have some empathy for others, especially the people you don’t know.

7. “We are apes with the ability to reason, but we are still apes.”

Compassion Is the Greatest Virtue – Lawrence Yeo – (More to That)

Serendipity: this essay was the next in my inbox, immediately following that mentioned in the previous takeaway. They’re closely related.

Compassion is what you then do with everything you’ve heard.

Another way to frame this might be that compassion is empathy in action. I’m not sure I agree 100%. To me, compassion doesn’t imply action, even though action can often result. Empathy feels more about being aware of another’s emotional state. Compassion feels more focused on the practical realities of their situation. The distinction could be pedantic. They both matter.

Ultimately, compassion is the greatest virtue because it’s the one that takes the most effort and intention.

I can’t disagree with that.

Do this: Have compassion.

More random links & thoughts


Austin Kleon’s newsletter. “Weekly art, writing, and creative inspiration from the author of Steal Like an Artist and other bestsellers.” This week’s “Write every day” takeaway was inspired by an item from Kleon’s recent newsletter.

I’m building and keeping a list on the sources page. (It’s growing nicely.)

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1 thought on “Apes With The Ability To Reason – 7 Takeaways No. 141”

  1. “…while I don’t think he would put it exactly this way, years ago he chose not to believe in writer’s block. So he doesn’t have it. As a result, he’s coming up on 30 years of continuous online publication.”

    That’s a nice succinct way to put it. I simply tend to be more wordy. 🙂

    Thanks for the mention.


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