Hindustan Times: Book Review, Silicon Valley culture may be changing how your brain works

By Dipanjan Sinha
This is an excerpt. The full article is available online here.

What does your brain have in common with American politics and the post-truth era? They’re all being altered by what comes out of Silicon Valley, according to Christian Madsbjerg.

“The Silicon Valley is now an ideology, a mindset that values knowledge from the hard sciences above all other forms of knowing,” Madsbjerg writes, in Sensemaking.

Our increasing reliance on numbers and the hard sciences is taking us away, he argues, from study and engagement with humanities and the human condition. And “in a Silicon Valley state of mind, sensemaking has never been more lacking or urgently needed.”

This sensemaking, he explains, is the opposite of algorithmic thinking. Essentially, it’s the way we learnt about the world and dealt with problems before algorithm took over.

We need to make room again for randomness and non-linear ways of thinking, because behaviour, cultures and peoples cannot be evaluated in mathematical terms.

Madsbjerg breaks down this approach to problem-solving into five ideas: culture and not individuals, thick data not thin data, savannah not zoo, creativity not manufacturing, and the North Star not the GPS.

He argues, through these sections, that we need to make room again for randomness and non-linear ways of thinking, because behaviour, cultures and peoples cannot be evaluated in mathematical terms. He argues that social instinct is an acquired strength, and it is one that we are at risk of losing as we depend more and more heavily on number-based algorithms and binaries.

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When you rely on algorithms for everything from your commute to work to your lunch order, Sensemaking suggests, you aren’t just altering the way you do things. You are changing the very filter through which you view reality. You are changing your ideas of what is intelligible and meaningful.

It’s like a brain used to both trigonometry and poetry, suddenly being used only for simple math. The rigour of endless doubt is replaced by a confidence in linear logic.


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