Friday, March 10, 2023

Book Review: Everything is Obvious - Once You Know The Answers

I first saw this book in the Internet Freedom Foundation thread on which books people there were reading. Then I saw it on Scott Young's blog which I have been following since childhood. I never got around to reading it till yesterday when I got into a 19 hour train ride to reach Sevagram for medico friend circle's annual meeting.

There was no better time to read the book because mfc's meeting this year is on caste; caste is one of those sociological phenomenons that defy common sense thinking every day; and this book is about "how common sense fails us" and why sociology is not  merely common sense.

What Duncan Watts has done is write a book specifically for a particular niche of people. This niche includes those people who become so used to straightforward deterministic sciences that they start seeing the limitations of it and look at larger and more comprehensive studies of human kind. Duncan went from learning physics to becoming a sociologist. This is exactly the route that Nihal is taking (from law to policy). And the route I'm taking from medicine to history. And the biggest issue that we face when we take this route is this unprecedented predominance of uncertainty.

That sociology is more complicated than rocket science. That there are no grand rules waiting to be discovered which will solve all questions. That there are no silver bullets. This is a hard realization. Not one that's impossible. With enough interdisciplinary exploration and generalization people like Nihal and I do discover that the world is full of uncertainties. But it's just so difficult to settle for that. "It feels wrong". 

And this book makes it feel right. Well, not exactly. But at least it makes it a palatable truth that the world is extremely complicated. It also protects us from common sense thinking that makes us settle for simplistic explanations that push us into silver bullet solutions. This book, you must read, if you have asked this question "What on earth does a sociologist do?" Once you read it, you'll feel like the contents of the book itself is obvious. And that's the whole point of the book. Everything is obvious, once you know the answers.

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