“An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark – that is critical genius.”


“The turning point really is just knowing you’re an imbecile.”


I almost called this the ugly underbelly of simplicity, but heuristic imbeciles was more fun. To be clear. I am not smart enough to come up with ‘heuristic imbecile.’ Someone must have said it or written it somewhere because it was scribbled in one of my notebooks. So, what is a heuristic imbecile? I would bet we all have one or more people in our sphere. They forward some meme or a snapshot of some simplistic shit (sometimes a quote) that either (a) ignores context or history or (b) maddeningly actually makes the opposite pint they believe it does (but in an upside-down alternative universe down looks up). What they are doing is adopting complex beliefs based on incorrect, or less-than-correct, simplistic bites of information. Let’s call it the allure of the ‘satisfactory partial.’ Pieces and parts become the quick and dirty heuristics to navigating the less-than-rational path. Yeah. Heuristic imbeciles cannot be agents of rational thoughts. The imbecile use of heuristics basically means always being caught in-between rational and irrational even though someone may think of themselves as ‘the rational one’. The satisfactory partial process seems to make sense and, yet, it arrives at outcomes that don’t really make sense. That’s because the ‘process’ understanding isn’t really understanding but rather, well, satisfactory partials. And from there, well, we are screwed.

Anyway. Remember that a thinker must collect and remember enough available information to be rational or implement ‘reason.’ Ignorance is no excuse because there is more than enough information available, so the test is what I knew or should have known. This is stressful. This creates cognitive dissonance. This makes us dependent on some heuristic thinking. The problem, that imbecile thing, occurs with the question of what we conveniently adopt, which creates in some sense an unsound inference, in order to make a choice/decision or even form an opinion. We demand a reasonable requirement of collection of available information and yet many do not have the ability to gather all of it. the reality is we must implement some reasonable care in the gathering as well as the assessment.  This is sometimes called a ‘finite predicament.’ In this predicament our finite minds mean we are unlikely to have entirely correct and complete theories therefore our cognitive biases may cause us to accept some falsehoods and reject some truths. To be clear, generally speaking, we should be cool with this. The reality is complete theories are likely to be too complex for many of us to understand. We are always in a finite predicament of having fixed finite limits on our cognitive resources. In fact we should accept the possibility that any human being let alone any computational entity to be able to perform some relatively simple reasoning tasks in ways that are guaranteed to be correct. This doesn’t mean that we should abandon reason in the pursuit of rational thinking, but rather understand the limitations of what we call reason and rational. It is the understanding that almost every single action that we choose will fall somewhere between randomness and perfection and an understanding that our best logical ability simply must satisfy the minimal inference condition. Uhm. The heuristic imbeciles do none of this.

Part of their issue is they use simplistic heuristics as ‘obvious inferences’ which are supposed to represent understanding of logical truths involved in those inferences. To be clear. The question of adopting convenient, but in some sense unsound inference rules, is how a human’s deduction system works. And while not completely rational it is not a complete rejection of ideal rational conditions because if it did it would encourage us to adopt and anything goes thinking. We just grab onto satisfactory partials, but, the truth is almost always found in the drama of the details. Heuristic imbeciles hate details.

Which leads me to the imbeciles God – technology.

I will not even begin with ChatGPT, suffice it to say the reality is that humans and technology are intertwined and in fact technology becomes a mechanism of some version of a technological moral change. What I mean by that is technology affects moral beliefs and practices through decisions, how we make morally embedded decisions related to others and their decisions, how we relate to others, and perceptually how we perceive situations. And when technology is embedded in those ways they’re constantly nudging against our morality by adding options, by changing decision making utility and costs, by enabling new relationships, by altering the burdens and expectations within those relationships, altering existing balance of power in relationships, and ultimately changing the perceptions through information altering mental models and, of course, heuristics.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an additional consequence of imbecile heuristics is it permits a sense of distance. What I mean by that is the heuristic provides a sense of anonymous expertise which creates a physical, mental, and moral distance which reduces any consequences to actually being wrong. Ultimately, though, this imbecile runs on reductive, exclusionary ideals of the world which, over time, begins to tear the fabric of the societal contracts. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of heuristic thinking rejecting the misguided ideals, but the imbeciles can be overwhelming and exhausting.

What we would like is for technology and our heuristics to provide us with mental models and analogies for understanding the world. Heuristics do this in a simple and direct way by giving us new images which we use to interpret and understand the world usually by helping us develop theories about the world. Often it happens in a very abstract way (I believe this is called the tools-to-theories heuristic). Once again, generally speaking, all of us do this. All I’m suggesting is that the heuristic imbeciles do this in such a simplistic and affirming way it is unhealthy for society and, practically speaking, useless for the individual. And it can even become slightly dangerous in that new mental models and heuristics inevitably change our moral perceptions.

Which leads me back to heuristics themselves.

Heuristics are constantly evolving and adapting as we are provided new data, imagery, and information. And as the heuristics change the mental models adapt. And while most of human reasoning about the world is done through simplified mental models of how the world works, reasoning is dependent on crafting models by comparing them with other models. But heuristic imbecile mental models are typically, uhm, heuristics, not models. So, uhm, yeah, their heuristics are being shaped by other heuristics. It gets worse. The heuristic imbeciles simplify this even more so not by degrees, but by multiple degrees. So, while models typically generate insightful thinking and practical guidance, heuristic imbeciles don’t truly compare mental models (and new data, imagery, information) for insightful thinking and practical guidance, they simply generate nonsense and useless guidance. Look. We all compartmentalize information to manage cognitive resources. But extreme compartmentalization, which is basically what heuristic imbecile do, tends to exclude a belief system from the things it needs to optimize reasoning and rationality. What I mean by that is if a belief system is organized into too many sharply defined small compartments, cognitively it all disintegrates into unrelated fragments of too many of the beliefs. The consequence of this is it decreases the likelihood to activate any coherence between them because the mental model only sees too many inconsistencies so useful inferences cannot be recognized.  Here is where things go really awry. Without the linkage the simplistic sense making becomes grounded in flawed logic which, while possibly being okay in the present, will inevitably guarantee the future will at some point no longer make sense. It is generally recognized in the philosophy of psychology that although consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds consistency is a condition for having any mind at all and if the heuristic imbecile cannot even make sense of the present; the future is fucked.

Which leads me to not all finites are created equal.

The reality is a very fundamental feature of human beings is the finite predicament of having fixed limits on their cognitive capacities and the time available to them. This actually demands minimal heuristic requirements as a default mechanism to get us mentally from here to there. The finite predicament we find ourselves in is within our fixed finite limits on our cognitive resources. We may be unable to grasp complete theories because some of the most interesting important theories are likely to be too complex for us to understand and this, inevitably, leads everyone to , in some form or fashion, to agree on some ‘satisfactory partials’. Unfortunately, this contributes to the innate cognitive biases necessary to navigate life and decision making and sensemaking, yet, may also cause us to accept some falsehoods and reject some truths. But just as not all finites are created equal, not all heuristic use is created equal. While much of what I have said today we all do, the heuristic imbeciles are just bad at all of this. they could be lazy, they could be purposefully ignorant, they could be happy with their mental bias, but in the end they are imbeciles who use heuristics to simplify the world in dangerously misguided ways.


Rejection of an ideal rationality condition will never translate into rationalism (a minimal normative condition as a descriptive condition is a dangerous path to wander). And being a heuristic imbecile will never translate into rationalism (although it may feel rational to the heuristic imbecile). Look. In the daily onslaught of new data, a sane human will settle on some vanity metric to point to. Vanity metrics are simplistic heuristics for complex situations. The problem in being sane is in this world we become heuristic imbeciles defining success and failure and picking winners and losers off these simplistic heuristics, memes and information. So, well, maybe I am suggesting in order to avoid being a heuristic imbecile you have to approach the world in a slightly less sane way. Well. That’s a point to ponder.

Written by Bruce