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bad ice cream

July 22, 2021

I’ve been eating a lot of homemade ice cream lately.

I didn’t make it. Don’t think that much of me.

As I was eating some the other night, it occurred to me that ice cream could possibly never be bad. If ever I had a choice between eating ice cream or something else, I imagined that the ice cream would always be a good option.

But was my conclusion correct, I thought? I had to think about it.

My mind floated back to being 5 or 6, when my dad would surprise us by randomly bringing home Baskin Robbins. That was awesome.

I thought about the first time I walked into a Marble Slab creamery, where you pick the ice cream flavor and the ingredients, and they mix it all together on a cold slab of marble before scooping it into a ginormous waffle cone. That was radically good.

I thought about an ice cream sandwich I got from Salt and Straw in San Diego, as artisanal ice cream was mainstreaming. That was amazing.

I concluded that you can’t mess up ice cream.

Until I caught myself, realizing that my thinking was completely flawed.

The human brain has limits, including limits in memory. How can I be sure that I accurately remembered all of my ice cream experiences? Maybe some weren’t that great, and I don’t remember them, because mediocre things aren’t that memorable.

Besides, why was I relying on only my own personal memories? I’m just one person, and my ice cream experiences can’t possible cover everything.

I was using very limited and biased information to draw my conclusion. Which means I was setting myself for making bad future decisions based on bad information.

“So what?” you might think. I mean, it’s just ice cream. If you choose it, and don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.

That’s true. But the way I thought about ice cream is the same way many of us think about much more important things – like climate change, getting vaccinated, or who to vote for.

Many people haven’t taken climate change seriously because they couldn’t recall examples of dramatically unusual environmental changes – until perhaps more recently, and a bit late in the game. Memories aren’t great at absorbing incremental changes that are nonetheless profound.

Many people haven’t gotten vaccinated because they can’t think of a single unvaccinated person they know who has gotten seriously ill. But our personal memories don’t cover everything. They don’t include evidence gathered by medical facilities across the country showing that many unvaccinated people (and their close ones) have been in fact been suffering.

And people often choose who to vote for by thinking back on everything they can remember about their favorite candidate. But if they already lean toward a candidate, their recollections will likely be more positive, because we don’t like remembering when “our person” fails (if we even choose to believe it).

Add up all these poorly informed decisions and you can’t help but think that the bad things happening today, whatever they are, might not have to be so bad.

It would be great if we could decide on crucial social issues in a better way. The reality is… we can. The future doesn’t have to be so grim if we all slowed down a bit more and relied on our memories a lot less. We could then ask the right questions, do the right research, get the right information… and make better choices.

It requires a bit of training. It requires gently reminding ourselves, on a regular basis, even when we’re not making choices, that our memories are imperfect because they prioritize efficiency over accuracy. But to make solid decisions about more important things, relying only on our memories could be a problem. We’d do better doing some research.

I’d like to see our futures – and the future of all living things – play out in an awesome way. Millions of tiny decisions by individuals have led us to where we are now. Maybe millions of decisions we each make in the future can get us to a better place.

It’s worth a shot.

That is all.

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