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Temperature conversion, six blind folks, and cosmic insignificance
Happy Thursday! Here are three (hopefully) useful things.
Weather is the universal small talk. Don’t let your struggles with temperature conversion force deeper conversation!
Americans use Fahrenheit. It’s people-based, so 0 feels objectively cold, and 100 feels objectively hot. Everyone else uses Celsius. It’s water-based, so freezing occurs at 0, and boiling occurs at 100. When you speak with people who use the opposite system, here are two quick methods to translate. Both are inexact, but they’re accurate within a few degrees.
Six blind folks
Six blind folks bump into a mysterious thing. Out of curiosity, they grope it.
Person 1 feels its trunk: “It’s soft and long. It’s a snake!”
Person 2 feels its ear: “Feels flat and floppy to me. It’s a hand-fan.”
Person 3 feels its leg: “Nah, it’s tall, round, and rough. It’s a tree trunk.”
Person 4 feels its side: “Can’t be. It’s hard and wide. It’s a wall.”
Person 5 feels its tail: “I object! It’s thin and flexible. It’s a rope.”
Person 6 feels its tusk: “Really? It’s long and sharp. It’s a spear.”
The six blind folks argue about this snake-fan-tree-wall-rope-spear thing until a sighted zookeeper passes by.
Zookeeper: “Stop harassing my elephant!”
This parable has numerous interpretations across cultures and disciplines. I find it helpful to gain perspective on perspective. In any group, dispersion of knowledge is inherent. We each hold a unique lens, and no one lens is wholly right or wrong.
Author and journalist Michael Pollan layers lenses to understand a subject. For instance, when exploring the apple, he layered the hard sciences of botany, biology, and agriculture with the soft sciences of economics and politics. He considered literature and history—the folklore of Johnny Appleseed and Greek mythology—to expand his perspective. To counteract one-sided blindness, we can:
Be curious. Seek more than meets the eye (or ears or hands).
Gather diverse lenses. Consult those with different experiences than our own.
Stay humble. Assume we’re blind to something. Because we probably are.
I once set Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” as my phone background because I thought the grainy photograph would put my problems into perspective. Then I deleted it because it was ugly.
Cosmic insignificance therapy is an idea by Oliver Burkeman that follows a similar line of thinking. By broadening your perspective to the cosmos, everything in life (including human existence) is trivial. While this mindset is ripe for an existential crisis, it offers a more healing idea: Lowered stakes. Without trivializing problems, you can approach them from a higher vantage point.
Humanity’s past, present, and—possibly future—is somewhere on a blue pixel in space.