This is the internet weblog of Bix Frankonis.

Storytelling As The Central Estimate

Sarah Weinman’s interview with David Dunning for InsideHook to discuss “the rise of the so-called ‘COVID influencer’ or armchair epidemiologist” has an interesting bit in its bottom half.

I don’t know about the people who promote answers, but I know there’s an audience for answers. I’d sure like to know when Michigan will release its shelter-in-place order, but we really don’t know, and can’t know yet.

There is a tendency to latch onto one answer, instead of recognizing that we need a total number of answers, a range of possibilities. Another way to put it is people tend to latch onto a scenario, not realizing many scenarios might unfold. That’s a source of overconfidence.

I’ve mused before about the idea that the downside of humanity having developed the adaptation of storytelling is that our brains want to cram anything and everything into a narrative. We aren’t especially comfortable with “a total number of answers” or a “confidence interval”; we mostly insist upon a single “central estimate”—and we aren’t always especially discriminating about where we get it.

This is a problem when there just isn’t yet a clear narrative to be had. Part of me thinks this is why books, movies, and television are fine, and so, now, are videogames, but infertile crossbreeds like Netflix’s Bandersnatch mostly seem like disposable gimmicks.

Or is that just a narrative I’ve crammed some stray thoughts into in order to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

This post originally was published 2 years ago by Bix Frankonis on Posts older than a decade might not reflect my current views.