The Hedgehog and the Fox

The goal of this blog is to help me learn through the process of writing and sharing my ideas. I’ve struggled in the past to keep track of what I learn. I’d find some books so interesting I had to start writing notes in them. Or I’d write notes somewhere else, such as a random Word document saved on my desktop. Then, it was always a struggle to file it properly or find those notes again. So I decided I’d just write everything down in one place. And then I decided I might as well do it openly because it would allow me to share those ideas and improve them.

I like Chris Dixon's philosophy about blogging to learn:

Blogging new hypotheses also means a decent portion of your blog posts need to be ignored or ridiculed. Otherwise you are playing it too safe.

But what, exactly, am I trying to learn through this process?

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin in his essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” describes two sorts of people in this world. There are hedgehogs, those who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea, and there are foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea.

Tolstoy, Berlin argued, was a fox that wanted to be a hedgehog. In War and Peace, Tolstoy was searching for a grand theory of the world but found none—only many smaller truths. 

I learned about the essay from Philip Tetlock, a psychologist who introduced that idea as a theme in his book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Tetlock conducted a twenty-year study in which 284 experts in many fields, including government officials, professors, journalists, and others, were asked to make 28,000 predictions about the future.

The foxes, those experts that knew many little things and were not tied to a single idea, performed much better than the hedgehogs. 

This is an idea I’ve seen in different versions many times, from Charlie Munger to Daniel Kahneman to Ray Dalio to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and each time it resonated with me strongly until finally Philip Tetlock through Isaiah Berlin drove it home for me in an elegant way.

People tend to search for some basic truth, a way to look at the world that makes sense to them. There’s a desire to find an elegant, neat narrative. But there really isn’t a single framework or way of thinking that works all the time. The tricky thing about the world, however, is that the more time we spend learning something, the more we become tied to that lens as the means of finding truth.

So the goal of this blog is to find many small truths and to question the truths everyone perceives as inviolable in the search for a better understanding of the world and a better way to act.