The Lindy Effect and the Wisdom of Crowds

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Randy and I were discussing Tom Naughton’s latest keynote address to the Weston A. Price folks.

The gist of the talk is that the diversity of ideas that come from the “crowd” means that the right answer bubbles up rather than relying on the “anointed experts” to give you the correct top down answers.

It’s a great theory and really speaks to my libertarian philosophy. But some folks think “if there not filter to who’s part of the crowd, who’s to say who’s right”. The crowd can be wrong too.

Sort of. But not really.

An individual in the crowd can be wrong. But the effect of their wrongness is limited to their reach in the population.

That is, the Lindy Effect applies to all kinds of ideas. If an idea promotes survival then the idea will survive. But here’s the rub: if the survival advantage is small and takes a generation to become obvious, then it may not really help you - even if it helps the long-term survival of the population.

Take, for example, the USDA dietary advice. I think we all agree that it’s wrong. But even though it’s catastrophically wrong, as Randy points out, only 30% of the population is obese. That is, even with totally shitty advice, 70% of folks are able to survive on it - the human body is surprisingly resilient. Folks are sick and weak and not living their best, but they are still living.

We’re starting to see that the (damn) millennials and the generations after them are the first generations of children in the US that are living less long and less well than their parents! We’ve always had health and life expectancy of of children to be better than their parents - that’s progress. But now we’re going backwards.

So we now have some top-down advice that’s wrong. But the time constant of the feedback is so long, so we don’t notice the deleterious effects until it’s too late. The folks that listen to the USDA will have a survival disadvantage. Switching to a more ancestrally appropriate diet is better - it won’t really help you live longer. it will help the culture over time.

It takes a long time for a survival advantage to win, and a short time for incorrect top-down advice to ruin everything. We can learn more from history than we want to admit.

Michael Deskevich