A common response to global problems like climate change and overpopulation is apathy ("I won't be around to see the effects, so what does it matter?") or pessimism ("Nothing we do will stop it"). So, we keep producing greenhouse gases and making babies, and we fail to generate any truly creative, new responses to these problems. So says Richard Gayle, a finalist in the Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge and president of SpreadingScience, an organization that trains scientists to improve their methods of sharing their findings, research, and ideas.
Gayle wants to alter the fundamental way we approach these problems, and see if that allows us to imagine new solutions. His strategy, unconventional though it sounds, is to tell stories.
Gayle cites the work of Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman in distinguishing between two types of thinking: System 1, which are the nearly instinctive, fast, prejudiced thoughts, like, "I am seeing accurately"; and System 2, which involves slow, "deliberative thinking"—often as a result of encountering contradictory beliefs.
An example is a simple optical illusion:
We can clearly move from System 1 to System 2 when faced with simple problems, like the examples above, but Gayle wants to see if the same technique will work for more complex, scientific problems—the energy crisis, pollution, water use, and so forth. Gayle speculates that in these situations, the move from 1 to 2 is inhibited by complexity and fear. But perhaps presenting them in a simplified, counterintuitive parable will defeat the all too common negative vision of the future, engender positive and creative reflection, and—ideally—result in new approaches or solutions.
Gayle intends to do so by telling a story he made up called "How the Asteroid Saved Mankind" in three different formats: a short, illustrated parable; a video; and a longer, detailed examination. The story is counterintuitive (people tend to fear asteroids) and feels exaggerated, like the tortoise and the hare, but plays on people's positive conceptions of space exploration: It will tout asteroids as our salvation. In the future (so the beta-version of the story goes), asteroid mining will be inexpensive and will provide "enough resources to build space-based solar arrays," which will then give us enough energy to "actively sequester carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere faster than we added it," Gayle says. Ideally, "creating a positive narrative alters how people view these complex problems."
Now, he's seeking $8,000 through the Rockethub-Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge. That would enable him to create all three versions of the story and also to experiment with them, he says. Gayle would survey people on their views of the future (what the world will be like in 10, 20, and 50 years; their level of excitement for having and raising children; etc.), then split those people into three groups. One group is the control and gets no story, one gets the parable, and the last watches the video. After, they're all presented with the detailed, data-filled examination, and surveyed once more. Several months later, they're surveyed a final time to see if and how their sentiments about the future changed.
The project recently broke 20 percent of its funding goal. If Gayle gets full funding and his results are promising, he hopes to apply the technique to other problems, such as "personal health, food production, water use," and more, he says. To help him reach his goal, go here. And for more on the Rockethub-Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge, go here.
Once upon a time there was a scientist who wasn't happy just studying the world and figuring out how it works. He wanted something more. He wanted to be a Big Shot and save the world. But there were so many problems that needed attention and so many people already working to solve problems in little and big ways, how could he get everyone to notice him?
He thought and thought about it but nothing came to him. One day he happened across a story about a little chicken who got hit on the head by an acorn falling from a tree and went about telling everyone that the sky was falling until he worked the whole town into a frenzy. Most people who read the story learned that sometimes our fears are not real. But the scientist saw something else. He saw that a lot of people are quick to be superstitious and fearful and they will listen to you if you scare them. He lived in a country that was free and rich so a lot of the problems that poor people have were not a big deal anymore like dirty water, poor sanitation, oppression and persecution, rampant malnutrition, hunger, and poverty. Diseases and natural disasters still affected them from time to time, but they didn't hurt thousands or millions of people like they did in poor countries. People didn't worry so much about those things anymore where he lived.
One day he visited a big city and was amazed by the loud noises, the crowds of people, and all the buildings and streets. It was interesting and exciting at first, but he also noticed that there weren't many trees or wild animals and there were no fields or forests or streams. Worst of all, the air was thick and stinky. Some of the smell was from all the garbage waiting to be picked up and some of it was from all the cars and trucks. Where he lived you didn't notice garbage and pollution because there weren't so many people living so close together (and garbage collectors weren't unionized so they never had garbage strikes). He realized that where there are lots of people, all their garbage and pollution adds up and becomes a big stinky deal.
Suddenly he got a really Big Idea. Problems aren't so big when it's just one or two or even a few thousand people. But when you multiply it by billions of people, then it's a Really Big Problem! And that's exactly what he had been looking for; a Really Big Problem to solve so lots of people would notice him and love him for saving them. All he had to do was use math: take a small problem, multiply it by billions, then scare a lot of people. Yay! Now he could create all the Big Problems he wanted. And he could tell people how to fix those problems because he had invented them in the first place.
(Of course all those billions of people aren't mindless herds of cattle that just eat and poop and make messes. They are intelligent and creative, individually and collectively figuring out solutions to their own problems. But all those people creating and solving problems by the billions is too complicated to incorporate into the simple math of Dr. Chicken Little so he just ignores it. All he sees is that billions of people means little problems can add up to big problems and he is never happier than when he can worry about Big Problems.)
"So, we keep producing greenhouse gases and making babies, and we fail to generate any truly creative, new responses to these problems."
I don't see any lack of innovation. Instead, what I see is political and commercial intransigence. The kind of changes required to "fix" the world often require huge disruption to existing business models, thus the intransigence.
As for dealing with intuitive thinking, the biggest problem is dealing with those who don't actually think anything in a meaningful sense.
Here, the challenge is defeating institutionalised un-thinking and a hostility towards science, largely underpinned by conservatism and religion.
waynesmallman, the biggest problem is trying to persuade the gullible masses who have unwittingly and uncritically accepted that imaginary problems are real and need to be solved. Imaginary problems don't have real solutions. Overpopulation and catastrophic global warming caused by human carbon dioxide emissions are two imaginary problems. Pollution, disease, and poor sanitation are real problems with realistic, achievable solutions.
Here's a quick primer on differentiating between imaginary problems and real ones. If the solution requires global coordination and disruption in ways never before achieved in the history of mankind, chances are it's an imaginary problem. If the problem has been solved already by other societies, then it's a good bet the problem is real. I'll leave it to you to study why overpopulation and human carbon dioxide emissions are not problems. While you're at it you might reflect on your hostility toward conservatism and religion. They are not opposed to science. It isn't conservatives, for example, who are against technology, especially one of the "greenest" and most efficient forms of energy production ever devised: nuclear power. They are, however, against social manipulation masquerading as "science" like global warming alarmism and population control.
just what we need..more armchair scientists. is it just me or does it seem like the world is made up of either the doers...and the "thinkers." Stop thinking and stop trying solving the world's problems through a committee! Your brain is the product of millions of years of evolution. Do something with it. Get off your couch & clear the glut in your minds caused by too much tv. Do something positive. Anything. No matter how "small." For the trees. The waters, rivers, lakes. For the environment. For.. the dodo. Does not have to memorable so stop waiting for the approval of your peers. Stop looking for excuses. Do or do not! Your choice.