The blogosphere thrives with advice for your younger self. Leaving aside lottery numbers and such, the older selves know this haircut was a really bad idea, you’ll eternally regret cheating on the nice guy, and you will never be that young again. This made me wonder which scientific knowledge I wish I had had already as a teenager. Leaving aside the scientific equivalent of sending lottery numbers back in time and recommend, say, that I have a close look at those type Ia supernovae, here’s my top 10:
- The fundamental theorems of welfare economics and Arrow’s impossibility theorem.
I was absolutely disinterested in economics and sociology as a teenager. After reading some books on microeconomics, welfare economics, and social choice theory, the world made dramatically more sense to me. That’s how the hamster wheel works, and that’s the root of most of the quarrels in politics. Now my problem is that I don’t understand why most people don’t understand this...
Are much more common than anybody expected when I was a teenager. This has really changed the way I perceive our place in the universe, and I guess that this topic gets so much coverage in the media because this is the case for many people.
- Medicine is not a science.
I was only after I read about the ‘recent’ field of ‘evidence based medicine’ that I realized I had falsely assumed medical practice is rooted in scientific evidence. Truth is, for the most part it’s not. Medicine isn’t a science, it’s a handcraft, and this is only slowly changing. You are well advised to check the literature for yourself.
- Most drugs are not tested on women.
Pharma companies often don’t test drugs on women because changing hormone levels make it more difficult to find statistically significant effects. The result is that little is known about how the female body reacts differently to drugs than the male body. In many cases the recommended doses of certain medicines tend to be way too high for me, and had I known this earlier I would have trusted my body, not the label.
- Capsaicin isn’t water soluble.
The stuff that makes Chili spicy doesn’t wash off with water, it takes alcohol or fat to get it off your tongue. Yes, this did make my life much better...
I wish I had known back then what I know today about genetic predispositions, eg that introversion, pain tolerance, response to training, and body odor have genetic factors, and I wish I had had a chance to have my DNA sampled 20 years ago.
The default assumption that I, and I think most people, bring is that other people’s experiences are similar to our own. It never occurred to me, for example, that the other kids weren’t overdramatizing, they were really hurting more. Just by looking at my daughters I would bet that Lara got my pain tolerance while Gloria didn’t, and I can tell that Lara doesn’t mean to hurt Gloria, she just doesn’t believe it hurts as much as Gloria screams. And after reading Cain’s book that covers the correlation between introversion and a neurological trait called ‘high sensitivity’ I could finally stop wondering what is wrong with me.
- You probably have no free will, but it’s no reason to worry.
Took me two decades to wrap my mind around this. Tough one.
- Most people talk to themselves.
Psychologists call it the ‘internal monologue’. How was I supposed to know that pretty much everybody does that?
- Adaptive Systems.
Adaptive systems are basically a generalization of the process of mutation and natural selection. This was really helpful to understand much of the changes in institutions and organizations, and all the talk about incentives. It also reveals that many of our problems stem from our inability to adapt. This is basically what gave rise to my this year’s FQXi essay.
- That guy really smells good.
It was long believed that humans do not detect pheromones because the respective nerve is missing. Alas, MRI imaging settled the dispute in the 90s. The nerve, now called 'Cranial Nerve Zero' does exist. But note that while both, the olfactory and the zero nerve, end in the nostrils, the olfactory nerve does not detect pheromones and the nerves wire to different areas of the brain. Exactly what influence pheromones have on humans is still an active subject of study.