Via Negativa

The Idea

Contributed by @philhagspiel |  Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

We overestimate the importance of what is and underestimate the importance of what isn't.

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World View

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Logic & Reasoning

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Mental Models

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That which we don't do matters at least as much as that which we do. But that which is available to us in the form of actual events or concrete things occupies our minds a lot more than that which could have been an event but didn't manifest as such.

When we look at history, we focus on what happened and not on what did not happen. Likewise, when we think about how to achieve our goals, we tend to default to what to do instead of what to avoid.

As humans, we typically extract a lot of 'via positiva' from data.

Scientific work gets more press if it is about what works than about what doesn't work.

Journalists write about impactful incidents and not about impactful absences of incidents.

History textbooks are full of wars and conflict even if the majority of the time was peaceful — and these "non-events" shaped history just as much as actual events like wars, intrigues or catastrophes.

Likewise, when we ponder our choices, we jump to what we could do (action) instead of what we could avoid to do (non-action).

In both a context of understanding the world as well as our personal choices, the 'via negativa' is just as impactful and important to account for as the 'via positiva' — but it is a lot less obvious.

“History is peace punctuated by war, not war punctuated by peace.”

— Nassim Taleb

"I don’t believe I have the ability to say what is going to work. Rather, I try to eliminate what’s not going to work."

— Naval Ravikant

Explore

➞ In Nassim Taleb's Medium article (under the section 'History Seen from the Emergency Room') you can find an interesting description of why the Via Negativa is so important to understand history and narratives.

➞ A great overview of how you can use the Via Negativa mental model can be found here.

➞ For a thorough introduction to the strongly related concept of the 'Availability Heuristic', check out this Wikipedia article.

Resources

If this idea resonates with you, some of these resources might add value to your life.

LinkNAMEFormatAuthor
Predictably Irrational
Book
Dan Ariely
Thinking Fast And Slow
Book
Daniel Kahnemann
Factfulness
Book
Hans Rosling
The Sovereign Individual
Book
James Dale Davidson
The Sovereign Individual
Book
James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg
VSI: Thinking & Reasoning
Book
Jonathan Evans
Everything Is Fucked
Book
Mark Manson
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck
Book
Mark Manson
Antifragility
Book
Nassim Taleb
Skin In The Game
Book
Nassim Taleb
Fooled By Randomness
Book
Nassim Taleb
The Almanack of Naval Ravikant
Book
Naval Ravikant
Principles
Book
Ray Dalio
59 Seconds - Think A Little Change A Lot
Book
Richard Wiseman
Influence - The Psychology Of Persuasion
Book
Robert B. Cialdini
The Great Mental Models (vol. 2)
Book
Shane Parrish
The Great Mental Models (vol. 1)
Book
Shane Parrish
Enlightenment Now
Book
Steven Pinker
21 Lessons For The 21st Century
Book
Yuval Noah Harari
Complexity Condensed
Blog
Louis Pereira
Mark Manson
Blog
Mark Manson
Paul Graham
Blog
Paul Graham
philhagspiel
Blog
Philipp Hagspiel
Farnam Street
Blog
Shane Parrish
Marginal Revolution
Blog
Tyler Cowen
Vizi Andrei
Blog
Vizi Andrei
Lesswrong
Blog
Edge.org
Blog
Changing Minds
Blog
Untools.co
Blog
Melting Asphalt
Blog
The Systems Thinker
Blog
Modern Wisdom
Podcast
Christ Williamson
You Are Not So Smart
Podcast
David McRaney
The Portal
Podcast
Eric Weinstein
Jolly Swagman Podcast
Podcast
Joe Walker
Lex Fridman Podcast
Podcast
Lex Fridman
The Knowledge Project
Podcast
Shane Parrish
Philosophize This!
Podcast
Stephen West
Your Undivided Attention
Podcast
Tristan Harris
Conversations With Tyler
Podcast
Tyler Cowen
Philosophy For Our Times
Podcast
Hidden Brain
Podcast
Invisibilia
Podcast
Kurzgesagt
YouTube Channel
TED-ed
YouTube Channel
Crash Course: Statistics
YouTube Channel
3Blue1Brown
YouTube Channel
Quanta Magazine
YouTube Channel
Primer
YouTube Channel
Veritasium
YouTube Channel
Talks at Google
YouTube Channel
Vsauce
YouTube Channel
Brilliant.org
Courses
Joscha Bach
Twitter
Jack Butcher
Twitter
philhagspiel
Twitter
Naval Ravikant
Twitter
Paul Graham
Twitter
Vizi Andrei
Instagram