A Lizard, a Dog, and Mr. Spock Deciding the World's Fate

Why Think by Numbers?


Numbers cannot lie.

A world without disease, starvation, violence, and suffering is the ultimate destination of humanity. Getting there will require voters to base their decisions on statistical cost-benefit analyses instead of irrational emotions. The power of numbers can make utopia a reality.

The Others

Your mind has been infiltrated. Your logical and conscious prefrontal cortex is ever thwarted by powerful saboteurs hiding within the dark realm of your subconscious. The usurpers of your decision-making processes are none other than the ignorant reptilian brain stem and emotional limbic system. They torture you with sadness for the slightest defiance. They drug you with narcotic neurochemicals to reward your obedience. This diabolical duo is responsible for all forms of irrational human behavior, such as racism, war, and marriage. Your only defense against these illogical bastards is to base your decisions on cold, hard numbers. For unlike these very flawed and mischievous components of our brains, numbers cannot lie.

Three Brains are a Crowd

You have a total of three brains: the reptilian brain, the paleo-mammalian brain, and the rational brain. In a sense, a human being is what you might get nine months after a romantic evening between a lizard, a dog, and Mr. Spock.

Triune Brain - Brainstem, Limbic System, Neocortex

Diagram Source: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/101269/chapters/A-Walk-Through-the-Brain.aspx

  • Brain 1: The Lizard – The reptilian part of us, the brain stem, deals with the basic survival, instinctive, and reproductive functions.  These functions are otherwise known as the four F’s:
    • fight
    • flight
    • feeding
    • intercourse

That’s all that crocodiles really do with their tiny, pea-sized brains.  This republican, I mean reptilian brain is “rigid, obsessive, compulsive, ritualistic and paranoid”. It is prone to repetitive, programmed behaviors and is incapable of learning from mistakes.  The reptile brain’s only saving grace is that it is responsible for all core tasks required for self-preservation.

  • Brain 2: The Dog – The second evolutionary stratum consists of the ancient paleo-mammalian limbic system. The limbic system adds feelings to instincts.  It morally classifies everything as either “good or bad”. The value in this portion of the brain is that it can generates more nuanced, varied and flexible behaviors than can the basic brain stem.
  • Brain 3: Mr. Spock – The characteristically human layer is the neocortex. This is the realm of reason and logic. It is this part of our brains that has given mankind the great gifts of philosophy, mathematics, science, and man’s crowning achievement, the Snuggie™.

So within our craniums, we have an ongoing battle between the vicious, impulsive lizard, the slobbering dog digging a hole in your couch to china for no reason, and Mr. Spock struggling to determine the fate of our planet. Wouldn’t it be best to leave this job solely to Spock?

A Lizard, a Dog, and Mr. Spock Deciding the World's Fate
Triune Brain Painting – Michael Stancato

Why Our Brains Don’t Work Rite

So, we’ve got this top of the line neocortex which is perfectly capable of rational thought.  Why then, do we behave so irrationally as a species?  The problem is that the rational neocortex is enslaved by the lower brains.  It is not free to examine all available information in it’s quest to attain objective truth.  Instead, it frequently becomes a kind of a slimy neuro-lawyer defending and rationalizing the preconceived notions of our emotional limbic systems. Let’s break down the processing of new infomation:

  1. Your sensory organs are exposed to a new piece of information in the form of stimuli.
  2. This sensory stimuli is neurally transmitted to the limbic system.
  3. The limbic system decides if this information is agreeable (true) or disagreeable (false).
  4. The limbic system attaches positive emotions to agreeable information or negative emotions to disagreeable information.
  5. That feeling gives that thought a sense of conviction or truth
  6. This information/emotion combination is what we call a belief.
  7. At that point, the neocortex is employed to blindly protect and defend this belief.
  8. The neocortex puts forth all available evidence which supports this belief.
  9. The neocortex figures out ways to discount or filter out any information which contradicts this belief.

The limbic system, this primitive brain that can neither read nor write, provides us with the feeling of what is real, true, and important using its own often irrational and illogical criteria. It therefore poses great danger to all of human civilization.

Why No One is Reading this Sentence

Many of the hostile commenters on my site have expressed their own theories as to why this is.  However, I feel that the reason for this can be explained by a concept known as “The Caveman Principle”.  This principle states that our brains have generally evolved very little since the time of the caveman.

The human brain has been around for about 200,000 years.  The Stone Age only ended about 6,000 years ago.  So, ninety-nine percent of our ancestors lived in environments characterized by starvation and a general scarcity of resources. Evolution crawls at a snail’s pace, so we still have these caveman brains optimized for an environment millennia away from our own. So our wants, dreams, personalities, and desires have not changed much in 200,000 years.

So, like, what were cavemen into?  Surviving long enough to successfully replicate one’s genes in an unstable environment requires brains with very specific interests.  Hence, the type of brain that survived to reproductive age typically paid a great deal of attention to these questions:

  • Can I eat it?
  • Will it eat me?
  • Can I mate with it?
  • Will it mate with me?

Note these topics of interest, which are suspiciously absent from this list:

  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • Formal Cost-Benefit-Analysis

An interest in these topics was pretty much worthless to primitive humans struggling to survive in ancient Africa.  This is especially true since math and written language didn’t even exist at the time.  Conventional evolutionary theory states that traits that offer no survival or reproductive advantage will not persist in a species. Hence, these subjects are as fascinating to us as Al Gore recounting a riveting experience of watching paint dry.

Evolution has made these subjects brutally boring to most of us. So that, my non-existent reader, is why you are not reading this sentence, and are instead viewing one of the many fine pornographic websites that the prestigious internet has to offer.

Let’s Get Ignorant!

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data, fool.”  – Mr. T

A general disinterest in economics and statistics wouldn’t be a big deal if we lived in a dictatorship.  However, in our political system, government action is to some degree a product of public opinion.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy.”  Based on this quote, I think it’s safe to say that our democracy is currently bulwark-free.  The fact that I don’t know what a bulwark is only further proves that we do not have an informed citizenry.

The only way to understand the important details of complex and large-scale societal issues is through the use of statistics and economics. Additionally, formal cost-benefit analysis is the only way to make optimal decisions on these complicated issues.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t even know what a cost-benefit analysis is, let alone have a firm grasp of the statistical and economic data needed to perform such analyses.

Here’s a list of what the average voter (such as myself) doesn’t know:

  • How much their government spends on:
    • foreign aid
      • Asked to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid the median estimate provided by survey respondents is 25%. Asked how much they thought would be an “appropriate” percentage the median response is 10%.  In reality, a mere 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid.
    • wars
      • Americans were asked which activities the U.S. government currently spends the most money on: national defense, education, Medicare or interest on the national debt? Just 39% of Americans were able to correctly identify national defense.
    • education
    • Medicare
    • interest on the debt
  • How many troops have been killed in our various and sundry wars
    • just 28% of adults are able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war.
  • How many civilians have been killed in our various and sundry wars
    • Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands.  The estimate provided by the average survey respondant as 9,890.
  • How much they pay in taxes
  • What the rate of inflation is
  • What the unemployment rate is
  • How much profit corporations make
  • What the Dow Jones Average is
  • 2 years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had perpetrated the attacks
  • How wealth is distributed among classes
  • only 2 out of 5 voters can name all three branches of the federal government.
  • only 1 in 5 know that there are 100 federal senators.

Without factual data for our neocortices to utilize in doing a cost-benefit comparison of our electoral choices, our stupid brain stems and emotional limbic systems get to choose our candidates.

The US government is the most powerful man-made entity in the history of the world. Allowing an uninformed public control of this colossus is like giving a baby a nuclear bomb. My dream is that one day we might upgrade our democracy to the equivalent of a toddler with a nuclear bomb.

Keep In the Vote!

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Pee Wee Herman

Elections are won and lost not primarily on “the issues” but on the values and emotions of the electorate, including the “gut feelings” that summarize much of what voters think and feel about a candidate or party.

Ideally, the goal in selecting any candidate is to identify the individual most likely to maximize the overall well-being of the citizenry. If our neocortices were in charge, politicians would be selected solely based on three primary criteria.

  • INTELLIGENCE, which is necessary to effectively identify and execute policies that maximize the general welfare of the populace.  The best way to measure intelligence would be for the candidates to take psychometric tests and make their scores public.
  • KNOWLEDGE – An immense level of knowledge over a wide range of issues (economics, history, science, etc.) is necessary to identify and properly execute optimal public policies.  This could be evaluated through standardized testing of the candidates.
  • RECORD – The candidate’s record proves whether or not they actually support policies that better the general welfare of the citizenry.  It also indicates whether or not the candidate possesses the integrity necessary to resist the influence of special interests.   These are small but powerful groups who would impose their own selfish policies at the expense of the greater society.

Unfortunately, I and most other voters have an informational vacuum between our ears with regard to this data for most candidates. Hence, our neocortices are unable to perform a rational calculation. This leaves the decision up to our stupid brain stems and emotional limbic systems. These portions of our brains can’t follow arguments of any complexity. They stuff themselves with slogans and advertisements. They eschew fact for myth. They operate on biases and stereotypes. They privilege feeling over thinking. The result is a political system of daunting irrationality.

The primary factors which do influence our electoral decisions include:

  • LOOKS – 70% of elections are won by the candidate with the prettiest face. Another study illustrates voter preference for candidates that possess facial features similar to their own.
  • LOVELIFE – Although infidelity may say something about a politician’s character, it has no direct impact of the lives of the voters.  My theory is that throughout evolutionary history, man tended to live in small groups.  Hence, the chosen leader was likely to come into direct contact with the voter’s spouse.  Powerful individuals tend to elicit a greater ability to seduce spouses.  Therefore, prehistoric voters who chose faithful leaders were less likely to have their spouse impregnated by this leader.  This would leave their spouse’s womb available for their own progeny.  Ultimately, their characteristic appreciation of fidelity would be passed to their offspring.
  • ELECTABILITY – Many people choose not to vote for a third party or independent candidate that they prefer because they’re unlikely to win. Their reasoning is that they would be throwing away their chance to help elect the lesser of two evils. A survey of college students shows that 79 percent of the students “felt that their vote makes a difference.” In reality, there is only a one in 60 million chance of a randomly selected voter affecting the presidential election.  It much more likely that that voter will die in a car accident (1 in 1 million) driving to the polls.  Hence, it’s irrational to believe that your vote is any more than a one data point in an opinion poll.
  • TRIBAL LOYALTY – Blind loyalty to political parties often distorts decision-making.  Many would claim that their loyalty to a party’s candidate is a result of their agreement with that candidate’s policies. However, for a lot of partisans, the causality is reversed.   Often individuals will modify their support for policies to achieve agreement with their candidate of the party to which they are loyal. For instance, upon the election of Barack Obama, a lot of republicans suddenly started complaining about the nation’s budget deficit. The odd thing is that, when George W. Bush was president, these same republicans were generally silent on the issue, despite the fact that Mr. Bush ran up $4 trillion in debt. At the same time, many democrats suddenly stopped complaining about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan upon Obama’s election.  It’s still unclear how having a democrat for a commander in chief can suddenly make a war morally justifiable.
  • VOTER’S MOOD – An experiment indicates that being in a bad mood while voting makes you more likely to vote out incumbents.
  • FLAGS – The mere appearance of the American flag in a voting booth makes voters more likely to vote Republican.

We’re damn lucky that CEO’s aren’t elected by popular vote.  If the public got to decide who ran Microsoft, I would be typing this sentence on a typewriter.

How to Beat Out Your Brains

A world without disease, starvation, violence, and suffering, is the ultimate goal of humanity. The thinking, rational mind has the power to make utopia a reality through innovation.  We’ve had a few hundred thousand years to get there, yet it remains a distant dream. Irrational or uniformed decisions are the primary reason why humanity fails to reach its true potential.

In a democracy and a free enterprise economy, voters and consumers are the deciders. Our prehistoric brains decide to waste society’s resources on wars and short-term gratification through erroneous decision-making. They are a drain on the economy, public welfare, the environment, and national security. Resources are misallocated, good ideas are rejected, and bad ideas are accepted. Money is wasted. Life and health are put in jeopardy.

Irrational beliefs are sand in the gears of the entire economy.  It’s virtually certain that your life will be shorter and less happy as a result of emotion-based decisions.

The only way to break the shackles put on our neocortices by its evil stepsisters is through the use of numbers.  When our rational mind has cold, hard statistics to support its arguments, it’s much more likely to overcome the emotion-based arguments of the primitive brains.  Providing your neocortex with this ammunition is the purpose of this site.  Using numbers we can overthrow this idiocracy and ignite a revolution of reason.


Mike P. Sinn

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49 thoughts on “Why Think by Numbers?”

  1. “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” -Mark Twain. This website’s premise is fundamentally flawed and if any of its numbers happen to “lie” then it only serves to polarize our nation further by giving a sense of false confidence to the many arm-chair ignoramus activists.

  2. Under the “Tribal Loyalty” section, you spelled our president’s name as “Barak Obama”, while it should be “Barack”. Just thought you’d want to know, you know avoiding undue influences and all that. Otherwise, a very interesting premise – I’m curious to see how objective the rest of the site appears, and how you balance the ease-of-understanding with the threat of oversimplification.

    1. You’re right. That Wikipedia has a list of statistical fallacies. Please let me know if you identify any of them in any of the posts.

      Also, if you can come up with well-sourced, fallacy-free statistical data that is contrary to my findings in a given I would be happy to add it in an amendment to the post.

  3. I agree that analytical thinking is what humanity needs. With that said, it is clear the general populace doesn’t utilize such forms of thinking as it is considered arduous. They find much ease in utilizing their subconscious to conform to abstract propaganda and associative base levels of thinking instead of statistical base levels. Research shows every time that even the most adept statisticians fall into mistakes of base level perception, representation, associative activation, regression to the mean and the infamous “WYSIATI.” Such concepts alluded to by the great Daniel Kahneman.

    Great post though, kudos to you. Statistical thinking is the way to go.

  4. I love the site and the facts, simple and direct. Numbers dont lie, and discovery and exploration is based on numerical facts and prediction. Emotions will kill you if thats all you rely upon to fly your spacecraft, airplane, or sail your ship. Smart people would rather think less with emotion and more with numerical relationships. Less smart people dont have the time or patience to give a damn. Nice site! thanks for it!

  5. statistics don’t kill people, people kill people….aka, you have to look behind any statistic to see what it’s actually measuring. you would think as nosey as americans are they would want to be looking at what goes on in every statistics bedroom……

  6. THANK YOU! For this shining beacon of logos, amidst all the muck of ignorant (at best) and ill-intentioned (at worst) pathos. We are far too materialistic to understand ethos though

  7. I just discovered this site moments ago and this is the best site I have come across in eons. I absolutely love this site. I live, eat and breathe logical analysis of current events and this site is spot on. Love it!

  8. where is the ‘about us’ tab? just stumbled on here today and am trying to find out more about who started this site, when, and who is invloved with the writings/opinions

  9. Barely scratched the surface, but loving this site so far.

    I have read some pseudo-psychology that suggests that rationality is a tool we use to back up our opinions, rather than a path to our opinions as we like to believe. My experience has jibed well that, but that still doesn’t make it true. I love the interdisciplinary approach of bringing in the structure of the brain. It’s almost beautiful when different branches of science come to the same conclusion through different starting points and methods.

    And I do believe you are using statistics to back up a stance, much the same way Nate Silver has in our past two elections. I believe that stance is trying to find the unbiased signal amidst all the (often well dressed-up) noise. Cheers to you, sir.

  10. Fantastic, this site needs to be spread. I will say, Mike, that your sarcasm is so subtle that I almost can’t tell if you’re mocking commenters or legitimately thankful. Regardless, I truly enjoy the perspective/eloquence/general knowledge you bring into this mud-stained political arena of ours.

    Just a question, but what does the statistics say about a potential AnCap voluntarist society? Is there even any data to support the notion of the illegitimacy of the monopolistic federal goverment? Thanks for your time.

    1. Thank you! I’m not sure what comments you’re referring to, but I am thankful for any comment that isn’t an ad hominem attack.

      This post suggests that smaller government leads to greater economic growth: http://thinkbynumbers.org/economics/gdp/ideal-level-of-government-spending/

      I tend to think that we do need some collective body (i.e. government) with the authority to use force to protect private property and keep people from hurting each other. It seems like the violent minorities tend to oppress other’s freedoms if the peaceful majority of society does not establish a body to disincentive this behavior. i.e. Somalia

  11. You reference some links that are way too old to be considered reliable. (‘what the average voter doesn’t know’)

  12. With logic and reason, we CAN ignite a revolution of reason. Thank you, very much, for this well written and profoundly interesting read.

  13. Fantastic article. My biological mother was a narcissistic sociopath. My step father was a republican..I mean a reptilian brain who indulged in toddler sexual abuse. I decided at the age of 7 that neither were interested nor would provide any “raising” for the children in the family. I therefore came up with a system based on logic where I would step outside of myself and ask myself questions and then eliminate all answers that may infringe upon another. Out of the remaining, I would choose the answer that statistically had the highest probability of succeeding or being correct.

    I have often wondered how this has effected who I turned out to be as a person. Of course, I believe that most of who we are is also hardwired, so it’s effect would still be minimal. I decided that since most of my decisions are based on logic and statistics, I felt it to be of an advantage.

    I chose to eliminate any answer that would infringe upon another because I was born with a sense of empathy. I am by no means perfect, yet, I find that most of what I decide can be backed up by numbers and therefore feel comfortable in most of the decisions I make.

    Thank you for this article. For I think today, I have finally been able to look upon my “self raising” with a good attitude and feeling that for a little kid at the age of 7, I did alright for myself.

    Thank you again,

    Gigi Jacobs

    1. Thank you, Gigi!

      I too suffered from a stunted emotional system due to childhood chronic stress. This probably led to an increased reliance on my PFC to make decisions.

      I’m glad you’re doing better! The world is damn lucky to have you!


      1. I think the world just may be better off with the two of us!

        Thank you for your kind comment and may our lives get better and better with each experience we have the privilege of having!

        Best to you dearest Mike,

        Gigi Jacobs

    2. Gigi,
      I am truly sorry for what your father did to you but….. Please do not list him as a republican then go on to say what he “indulged in”. It is that kind of backasswards grouping and hating that divides groups. Coming from a state that had the lowest unemployment, highest budget surplus, one of the lowest crimes, highest collegiate research, one of the happiest states in the U.S., and is predominantly run under conservative values and republican legislation (North Dakota) while being raised until I was 18 in a democratic state which cannot say the same for unemployment and budget (MInnesota) I would say if you opened your mind and do not let what political stance your father had bias your thinking, you would find that conservatives (ie. republicans) are not that far off from liberals (democrats). It is people making this rash distinction based on what they are brought up to think that makes this country divided on every issue without really understanding the issues.

      1. Devilis, how appropriate. It was not my fathers misinformation on what a Republican was, but rather the reading of the two platforms that made my decision solid. I guess you haven’t read it yet. And if you don’t know this about numbers, it takes a great deal of integrity to use them honestly and with the right weighing to give them correct meaning. For instance your clue about being in a a Republican State and then a Democratic State says little about anything for you’ve not included the numbers and where they began and stopped to have any meaning what so ever so you basically made a nonsensical statement. And I will call out my father for he is the typical Republican statistically (the majority) and he does behave as the majority behave and so it was not his teaching but my reading which led me to believe that Republicans are for all the things that I am not.

        Like safety nets for the poor, Medicare, Social Security, a high enough corporate tax so after deductions and subsidies they don’t pay 11% but pay 30% or more like the rest of us, rules and regulations so they don’t cheat and pollute and kill the people who work for them with their poisonous chemicals, less tort reform for if anyone knows about the law, then they know that tort reform is built into the law and the only reason to make laws to “reform” is to take away a person’s right to sue for the total of what he has lost, social programs like welfare and Food Stamps (surely 3% won’t kill you while you give up 50% of every dollar in corporate welfare), infrastructure so our bridges don’t fall into the rivers after the corporate tankers run them into the water, a fair and just minimum wage (you know like 3 times what it used to be when I had employees for who would be so cheap to take all the winnings and pay the workers nothing, Rules on health insurance companies when they get so out of hand that they pay themselves all the premium checks and have nothing left for the injured, and I could go on with 50 or more different things between a Republican and a Democrat but I’d rather not for the things a Republican loves are the things that make me hate being around selfish and egotistical humans when there is so much pain our there that could be really fixed if one did the numbers on all and did the honestly.

  14. I am so glad I’m not the only one who thinks like this – for a looonnnggg time, I believed that I was totally alone in my thoughts on politics and economics. It’s really nice to hear someone lay out my thoughts in a clear and concise way. Now, if we could just get the psychopaths out of office, I believe we could make some real progress in this country. Alas, we have given the nuclear bomb to a newborn.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! Please let me know if you have any ideas how we can do that! My email is m@thinkbynumbers.org. Unfortunately, we’ve given them about 10,000 nuclear bombs, I think. I’ve been wanting to make a post on how many times we could kill everyone on earth with our current nuclear stockpile. But I just haven’t had the time yet.

      What do you do for a living?

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