Chesterton’s Fence

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/03/chestertons-fence/

I’m going to ‘fess up and say that I don’t recall ever hearing of “Chesterton’s Fence.” If you too just went, “who’s what?” then do check out that article.

That said, I’m nervously thinking everything about it—his fence, that article—seems obvious to me. Not simple, but obvious. Any time I find myself with such thinking, rather than stand on my megalomaniac soap box and yell at “those kids”, I instead begin searching for a clear reason for why I know, what I am claiming seems obvious.

In this case, the knowledge comes from learning systems thinking. Somewhere along my way I learned to think about everything as systems of things. I’m always trying to see how this thing is related to, dependent on, and causative of, some other things. Somewhere along my way I found Chesterton’s fence, (but the fence system didn’t include long-term planning for owner identification and so the fence I apparently found wasn’t labeled.)

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Fools rush in

Often I play the fool when I rush in to help. My bias to action, combines with my curiosity-driven desire to resolve problems—or at least understand what went wrong—and in I rush. “Don’t just stand there. Do something!” If unchecked, I’ll be found, still lecturing on obscure tech and sharing crazy stories, and hour later.

I’m always trying to rein in that behavior. “Don’t just do something! Stand there.”

What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? Is a solution actually being asked for, or am I simply imagining I could be useful?

There are endless problems I will never even know about. What, actually, is wrong with leaving alone a few problems I do know about?

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Apt to escape

I had, also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; For I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones.

~ Charles Darwin

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And speaking of cognitive biases

Confirmation bias is one of my faves. You know, where you suddenly notice all the other cars like yours when you buy one, or spot coincidences from which you draw an [erroneous] causal conclusion. I know right? Screw you cobbled-together-brain! But this coincidence can’t just be a coincidence:

I’ve been reading-around my copy of The Daily Stoic for about 5 years now. Each page of the book is for a specific date. I long-ago got sick of lugging the book around, so I photographed every page, and loaded them into my personal productivity software. For five years, I’ve had annually repeating todos with the day’s image attached. (Yes, it was a few hours of work to set up 365 todo’s, with “recurs every year on the same date,” and an attached image. Yes, it was absolutely worth it.) So every year, on the same date, the same photo of the same page of the Daily Stoic comes up for me to read. (Craig-level crazy: The image for February 29 is attached to the todo for February 28 and I read it every year.) Finally, you need to know that only a small percentage of the Daily Stoic entries quote from Marcus Aurelius’s, Meditations.

Recently, I bought a fresh, hardcover of my favorite translation of Aurelius’s Meditations. (My paperback copy of this same translation is mangled and marked up, and the typography isn’t as spiffy.) I photographed each page, and set it on recurring todos. This was slightly more complicated because it’s not a page-for-each-date. I simply counted the images and made the todo’s recur that often. So each day a page comes up, but it’s not the same page on the same date each year. (There are 139 pages of content, so I’m reading Meditations 2+ times per calendar year.) For added complexity, the modern book is comprised of Aurelius’s 12 original books; Each was a long scroll on which he wrote entries in sequence. What’s on each page of the modern book is simply determined by book layout: It might be Aurelius’s original book 4, entries 11 and 12, or it might have part of an entry continued from the previous page, or an entry which is cut short that runs to the next page. Sure, it’s messy to try to read a book a-page-a-day if it wasn’t designed that way, but it works, and I get to visit Marcus each day.

That’s the setup. Here’s the coincidence…

Today I hit a Daily Stoic entry that quotes Meditations. The page that’s up for reading in my sequence from Meditations, CONTAINS THE QUOTED PASSAGE.

o_O

After looking around suspiciously… “Am I on Candid Camera?” After looking up suspiciously… I decided I better blog about this.

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