Leave pageants in the past (Getty)

January 2, 2024   6 mins

As a writer working on a catalogue of humanity’s wisest ideas, I spend my days searching for concepts by which to better understand the world. I find such ideas everywhere and everywhen, from Ancient Greece to Silicon Valley, and periodically I collate the most interesting. Of all the many ideas I collected last year, I present to you the 33 best, to help ensure that you begin 2024 wisely.


1. Preference Falsification
If people are afraid to say what they really think, they will instead lie. Therefore, punishing speech — whether by taking offence or by threatening censorship — is ultimately a request to be deceived.

2. The Opinion Pageant
The rise of social media as the primary mode of interaction has caused us to overvalue opinions as a gauge of character. We are now defined more by what we say than what we actually do, and words, unlike deeds, are easy to counterfeit.

3. Limbic Capitalism
Capitalism needs us to keep buying, and the best way to keep us buying is to get us addicted — to food, drugs, porn, news. Our brains are being violently overstimulated as businesses compete to obsess us; the market is slowly turning us into mindless dopamine-junkies.

4. Path Dependence
The Qwerty keyboard layout was a misguided attempt to stop typewriters jamming, but, despite being inefficient for typing, it’s endured into the digital age, because we all just accepted it as the norm. We become blind to so many problems because we let them become part of life.

5. Firehosing
In the past, the purpose of disinformation was to convince you of a single narrative. In the digital age, the purpose of disinfo is to overwhelm you with many contradictory narratives until you start to doubt everything and become confused, demoralised and passive.

6. Dartmouth Scar
In 1980, social psychologist Robert Kleck told his research subjects they’d engage in a study to test discrimination. He painted scars on some of their faces, and then had them attend job interviews. The participants with scars painted on their faces reported feeling discriminated against for their looks. However, unknown to them, their scars had been removed before they entered the interviews. It would seem we can be victimised by the mere belief that we’re a victim.

7. Bias Blindspot
Whenever I write about a bias or fallacy, I’ll receive replies from Leftists claiming it explains Rightist views and Rightists claiming it explains Leftist views. Not once has someone claimed it explains their own side’s views. The belief that bias is just something that affects our opponents is our greatest source of bias.

8. Shiny Object Syndrome
We’re drawn to whatever’s new, because in our evolutionary history new info tended to matter. But now it doesn’t, because 99% of new info is clickbait, mass-produced and rushed out to exploit our attraction to novelty. So stop chasing the new and seek info that’s stood the test of time.

9. Dysrationalia
Just because someone is intelligent, it doesn’t mean their intelligence is pursuing intelligent goals. It’s possible to devote a genius-level intelligence to justifying idiotic opinions and behaviours. Tragically, a common fate of intellectuals.

10. Fanbaiting
Ideas that divide spread further than ideas everyone agrees with. Film studios portray a white character or historical figure as black, which stokes outrage and divides the internet, and as everyone complains or defends it, they all unwittingly publicise the movie.

11 Licensing Effect
Believing you’re good can make you behave badly. Those who consider themselves virtuous worry less about their own behaviour, making them more susceptible to ethical lapses. A big cause of immorality is self-righteous morality.

12. Switch Cost Effect
We simultaneously inhabit two worlds — online and off — and both regularly interrupt us with demands/notifications, so we’re never able to settle in either. The constant switching of attention apparently lowers working IQ by around 10 points, dumbifying us twice as much as being high on cannabis.

13. St. George in Retirement Syndrome
Many who fight injustice come to define themselves by their fight against injustice. So, as they defeat the injustice, they must invent new injustices to fight against, simply to retain a sense of purpose in life.

14. Goodhart’s Law
When a measure becomes a goal, it ceases to be a good measure. Since schools started to use test-scores as targets, they’ve gradually stopped teaching kids how to live fulfilling lives — and now mainly teach them how to pass school tests.

15. Hotelling’s Law
Rival products — burgers, pop songs, political parties — tend to grow more alike over time, because creators copy more successful rivals to steal their customers or audiences. Paradoxically, this increases the value of being different.

16. Segal’s Law
“A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with 2 watches is never sure.” Ancient societies followed a single narrative. Modern societies are cacophonies of competing narratives. Without trust, more data doesn’t make us more informed but more confused.

17. Parkinson’s Law
Work expands to fill the time allotted for it. No matter the size of the task, it will often take precisely the amount of time you set aside to do it, because more time means more deliberation and procrastination. The underlying principle, known as induced demand, applies to many other resources: software expands to fill memory (Wirth’s law), patient numbers expand to fill hospital beds (Roemer’s law), energy consumption expands to meet supply (Jevon’s paradox), road congestion expands to fill roads (Braess’ paradox).

18. Pareidolia
We see whatever we look for. For aeons, survival favoured the paranoid — those able to discern a predator from the vaguest outline. From these survivors we inherited hyperactive pattern-detection, which once saved us from the lions, but now curses us to see them even in the skies.

19. Safetyism
After US schools banned peanuts because some kids had allergies, more kids developed peanut allergies from lack of exposure. We’re increasingly protecting kids from life, which only makes them more vulnerable to it. Too much safety is dangerous.

20. Nutpicking
Online political debate mainly involves cherry-picking the most outlandish members of the enemy side and presenting them as indicative in order to make the entire side look crazy. The culture war is essentially just each side sneering at the other side’s lunatics.

21. Celine’s 1st Law
National security is the chief cause of national insecurity. Government attempts to stop a threat to security lead it to draft harsher laws and to spy on its citizens, which eventually becomes a greater threat than that which it’s protecting against.

22. Problem Selling
Problem solvers take an issue and break it down into small solvable chunks. Problem sellers — such as politicians, or the press — do the opposite, blaming many small issues on one big problem that looks insurmountable and terrifying.

23. Idiocy Saturation
Online, people who don’t think before they post are able to post more often than people who do. As a result, the average social media post is stupider than the average social media user. 

24. Celine’s 2nd Law
Honest communication occurs only between equals. If one person has power over another, then the less powerful person can’t risk saying what they really think. Thus, in any hierarchy, honest communication only occurs horizontally.

25. Crabtree’s Bludgeon
It’s possible to create a coherent explanation for any set of observations — even ones that are mutually contradictory. In other words, there is at least one seemingly rational argument to justify even the most idiotic bullshit. So be careful.

26. Presentism
We judge history by modern standards. We regard slave-owners as evil, but slavery was so common and familiar to our forebears that they were blind to its iniquities, as we are to the industrial slaughter of animals — for which we too will eventually be called evil.

27. Cynical Genius Illusion
Cynical people are widely seen as smarter, but sizeable research suggests they actually tend to be dumber. Cynicism is not a sign of intelligence but a substitute for it, a way to shield oneself from betrayal and disappointment without having to do or think.

28. Boxer’s Child Paradox
Each generation tries to make life better for the next, but this deprives future generations of the ordeals needed to build character. In our relentless quest for ever more convenience, are we dooming posterity to weakness?

29. Ambiguity Aversion
A 2016 study found that test participants who were told they had a small chance of receiving an electric shock exhibited much higher stress levels than those who knew they’d certainly receive an electric shock. People tend to find uncertain outcomes less tolerable than bad outcomes.

30. Semantic Stopsign
One way people end discussions is by disguising descriptions as explanations. For instance, the word “evil” is used to explain behaviour but really only describes it. It resolves the question not by creating understanding but by killing curiosity.

31. Opinion Shopping
Many who conduct research online ignore every source they disagree with till they find one they agree with, and then use this source as an authority to justify what they already believe. They don’t consider someone an expert unless they agree with them.

32. Compassion Fade
“One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” When presented with two appeals for charity — one based on famine statistics and one based on a single starving girl — people tend to donate much more to the girl. Our minds can’t grasp big numbers, so we navigate the world through stories, not statistics. We’re moved by drama, not data.

33. Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity
Evil can be guarded against. Stupidity cannot. And the world’s few evil people have little power without the help of the world’s many stupid people. Therefore, stupidity is a far greater threat than evil.


This is an edited version of lists that first appeared on The Prism.

Gurwinder Bhogal is a freelance writer. His work can be found at gurwinder.substack.com