Are you smarter than your trashcan?

Are you smarter than your trashcan?

This may seem like a really inane question, but think about it for a second. We are thinking breathing beings, how can we possible not be as smart as our trashcan?

First, let’s establish how we would measure this. We like to pretend that how smart someone is goes from nothing to absolute, but it doesn’t. Having no knowledge and doing nothing is far better than using bad knowledge, or thinking you have answered something correctly when you haven’t, or over reacting. We are fallible, and as such, we make bad decisions from time to time. Poor judgment, biases, and misinformation actually detract from an outcome, where zero knowledge does not have an impact. The scale for how smart you are is not one of 0 to 10, but one of -10 to 10, with 0 being the middle or neutral point in the absolute scale.

Your trashcan does not offer any knowledge, it does not react, and it does not have biases. It does not push its agenda, nor is it influenced subconsciously by the agenda of others. It is not wired to want to rationalize its own actions or to want to prove the value of its actions to itself or others. It is not impacted by Maslow’s hierarchy any more than it is by fear, or greed, or lust, or any of the other ways that we are wired to be influenced. Anything that goes into it, it can dump out just as easily. It doesn’t reject knowledge, nor does it change to fit the mood of the room. It does not provide any value and it has no knowledge, so it will always be stuck at 0 on that scale.

Now human beings are capable of amazing things, we have built great monuments, civilizations, history, art, cars, we have done it all. We have also had war, greed, genocide, hate, bigotry, and believe many crazy things. Those are the end points of all we are capable of, but I am not referring to the theoretical but this moment. You can be anywhere from the greatest level (10) to the lowest delusion (-10). We all constantly move up and down that continuum with each action we take, but do you know where you are at any given time?

How do we process information and how does it impact the decisions we make? How does it impact our view of ourselves and the world?

People like Philip Zimbardo and Robert Levine have shown that we are wired to look either at the future, or the present, or the past, but we fail to look at multiple perspectives. We get too caught up in reacting today, or planning for the future. We are full of biases and self-delusions, and even worse, knowing this in no way stops them from changing how we view our world around us. We know that in the past, we have made mistakes, and in the future, we will make them, but how do you know that right now you are making a mistake? We lose perspective, and because of this the meaning of data we use to make decisions changes constantly. We fail to balance what we are doing with where we go. To make up for this, we make assumptions, we rationalize, we ignore data, and we find things to confirm what we want. We are so wired to only confirm what we do that we ignore a majority of the information from the world around us.

This impacts everyone.

So I ask you, right now, not tomorrow or 20 minutes from now, are you smarter than your trashcan?

You can’t answer with what you are capable of, nor can you answer with what you have done in the past. In the here and now, how do you know that the answer is a positive? How do you know if you are currently adding value, or removing it. Are you really doing the right thing? Or are you just using misinformation, biases, and self-delusion to convince yourself that you are above 0, while all those other people are below it? Are you letting those biases rule what you view and letting you think you are smarter than the trashcan? Or are you really making an impact? Is your impact real, or is it hubris?

The only way to really make sure that you are improving your chances to be above zero is to put in place a system that limits the impact of those biases and gives you insight into your own decisions. You have to be humble enough to put a system in place to measure your decisions in context, away from any in the moment manipulations, and that allows you to know the efficiency of your choices. You’re never going to be perfect, but it’s up to you to make sure that you aren’t just calling trash gold.


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