Choices and Challenges of Individual and Collective Data Use

episode 37 cover art for CBaS showing Rebecca Costa

We’re letting technology dictate how we behave rather than deciding ahead of time what kind of society, what kind of human beings we want to be. We should decide how we want to be as a society, how we want to be as individuals first and then go out and select the technologies and use them to that purpose.

Timeline of the Chat

00:00 – Intro
00:42 – Rebecca’s bio
02:01 – Growing up biracial in Japan
06:41 – What is a sociobiologist
09:22 – The attraction of sociobiology
10:25 – Thinking about COVID-19
12: 20 – Approaches to COVID-19
15:02 – Thinking about vaccine development
16:53 – Getting back to normal
19:05 – Preadaptation and predictive analysis
22:33 – Ethics, Morality and Choice with Big Data
28:16 – Considering representation and equity in algorithms and big data
32:43 – The Malleable Nature of Data
34:31 – What individuals should be aware of with data
35:48 – Escaping the filter bubble
38:36 – Bias and conflicts of interest in the news
39:31 – Remembering our origins to understand our decision-making

What we should be aware of is not to rely on single-source information. If you find that you’re only turning the news on it at five or six o’clock at night and just watching one newscast, you’re probably not getting the full picture

How to Contact Rebecca

 We probably need to work on wisdom and sensitivity and knowledge as much as we need to work on technology.

Transcript of the Episode

The interview was recorded on June 7th.
Rebecca’s Bio

Damianne: [00:00:42] Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist and futurist. She’s the preeminent global experts on the subject of fast adaptation and recipient of the prestigious Edward O. Wilson biodiversity technology award.

Her career spans four decades of working with founders, key executives and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. Costa’s first book The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse was an international bestseller. A follow up book titled On The Verge was introduced in 2017 to critical acclaim, shooting to the top of Amazon’s number one new business releases. Costa’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and other leading publications. For more information you can visit That and all other links will be in the show notes.

Let’s get started.

I’m so happy you could join us today, Rebecca. Thank you for being here. 

Rebecca: [00:01:57] Well thank you for having me and thank you for the good work you’re doing. 

Growing up biracial in Japan

Damianne: [00:02:01] You were born in Japan and you lived there for the first 16 years of your life. You’re a mix of a Japanese mother and your father was Italian American. So you grew up in a diverse environment in Japan.

Could you share with me, what do you carry forth from your time living there? 

Rebecca: [00:02:20] Well, when I was living in Japan, there were very, very few Caucasians that were fluent in Japanese and had Japanese parents, owing to the war. And we have to remember that there was a great deal of racism against the Japanese following World War II. And the Japanese were not welcome in this country. And, even though the Japanese had fully surrendered and accepted Americans as their new leaders and the American army moved into Japan, the American culture really wasn’t ready to accept the Japanese after the brutal way they’ve handled the war.

And so as a result of that, you know, I was a bit of an anomaly. I had a Japanese mother and grandmother and seven uncles and the complete Japanese upbringing. And yet, I look about as Caucasian as a person can look. Something happened and I didn’t inherit very many physical genes associated with the Japanese other than straight long hair and people don’t necessarily associate that with being a Japanese. So, at the time, it was a bit of an anomaly. And I realized that I had to work harder to integrate into the Japanese society because the onus was on me to present my Japanese ness, if you will, because my looks were making me look like an outsider.

And at that time, unlike today, there weren’t that many people that were Caucasian and fluent in Japanese. And that was my first language. So, you know, I had that benefit of being able to speak like the Japanese. It wasn’t a language I learned later in life and had the awkwardness of strange accents and pronunciations and things like that. That was my first language. So as soon as I started talking, people were shocked. Their eyes flew open and she talks like us. We wouldn’t know any different. 

I would have done very well on Japanese radio, provided you couldn’t see me. I carried that with me to a certain extent as a young woman in Silicon Valley in the technology field. There were rarely any women in the executive meetings. The vast majority of the time, I would say 99% of the time, I was the only female in the room. So there’s this constant theme in my life where the people that I worked with or the people I’ve lived with didn’t look like me and didn’t act like me and didn’t think like me. And so, assimilation has been a big theme in my life. 

Damianne: [00:05:01] I worked in Japan for a few years, for four years at an international school. And there would be a lot of children who will mixed Japanese and Caucasian. And I remember speaking with some of them about what it was like. And of course it was a different time because they were in an international school as opposed to being in Japanese school. In your household, what was that like? 

Rebecca: [00:05:26] Well, my household was mainly run by my mother. You know, my mother was a stay at home mom, so we ate Japanese food until my dad would come home. He was a pilot for the CIA. And then when he came home, we had steak and potatoes, but steak and potatoes in Japan, you know, think about this, in the sixties and seventies was very expensive. That was all imported American food. And so, you know, it wasn’t like they had cattle on the Island in Japan. So we ate Japanese food most of the time until my dad came home. My dad was a potatoes and meat guy, you know. He was kind of a traditional fellow.

I used to laugh and say the one thing that the Italians and the Japanese have in common are rice and pasta. And that’s been the bane of my diet, you know, and, and at this age, you know, any hope of going on a keto diet is out the door for me. It’s in my DNA to be attracted to rice and pasta on both sides of the world. So there you have it. 

Damianne: [00:06:30] It’s funny because one of the things I remember from going to Italian restaurants in Japan was that there was almost always seaweed on the pasta.

Rebecca: [00:06:39] Yeah

What is a sociobiologist


Damianne: [00:06:41] You’re a sociobiologist. What does that mean? And why did you choose that career? 

Rebecca: [00:06:46] A sociobiologist is a person who looks for the evolutionary reasons for human behavior.

So we have to remember that some of our behavior has been programmed because it was advantageous in earlier prehistoric times. And so what a socio biologists looks for is the biological reasons for certain behaviors, certain social trends and so on and so forth. I don’t know if sociobiology chose me because sometimes I think about this, was that a deliberate conscious decision.

So many of your decisions in life are not as though you sat down with a spreadsheet and wrote out all the pros and cons. We’re really not that logical and if you really look at the career paths of the most successful people in the world, it’s kind of windy haphazard; there’s a lot of luck involved running into people who, you know, introduce you to someone else. There’s just a lot of that, that shapes your career. And in my particular case, the last year I was in college, it was unfortunate this happened the last year, Edward O. Wilson out of Harvard University published a book called Sociobiology.

Nobody had ever heard of sociobiology, and a friend of mine, who is still friends with me to this day and I’m 65 years old, he handed me this book and when I got done reading it, I said, well, I want to be a sociobiologist; this guy has it right. In those days we didn’t have hybrid degrees, like you do today. You can, you know, go and petition for a type of degree that you want. But in those days, things were very siloed. And so you could get a degree in sociology or you could get a degree in biology, but sociobiology is not really sociology and biology. It’s actually looking at the biological origins of human behavior and it’s quite a different discipline.

Well, of course, I went to the Dean of the school and petitioned to become a sociobiologist. He’d never heard of it and said one book isn’t gonna make it a degree. And so they gave me a degree in sociology and biology, but I began corresponding with a very young man by the name of Edward O. Wilson, who later became the greatest naturalist in the world. Ed’s In his nineties these days and we’re still in contact with each other. That’s a lifelong mentorship and relationship that I treasure. 

The attraction of sociobiology

Damianne: [00:09:22] Do you remember what it was about the book that attracted you so?

Rebecca: [00:09:27] Yes, it made sense. It made sense. It explained why we don’t always make the right decisions, why there’s so much irrational behavior in the world. You know almost anything that doesn’t make sense can be explained in terms of prehistoric human behavior and urges that are still in our DNA. And I can explain just about anything going on in the world in terms of our prehistoric behavior that we’ve inherited and continues on.

You know, we haven’t been out of the caves that long. And we’re a relatively new species on this earth although we have technology and we get to boss all the other species around. So the fact of the matter is that we still have some prehistoric predispositions that are not suitable to modern society.

Thinking about COVID-19

Damianne: [00:10:25] How does that play in to this time? If we think about COVID-19 knowing what you know about history and the way we make decisions and the way humans act based on their biology, are you hopeful or are you worried right now?

Rebecca: [00:10:41] Well, I’m both. I’m both. I think there were some good things that came out of COVID-19 and there were some terrible things. One thing is we saw how people act when there’s a shortage of toilet paper. Yeah, they’ll knock each other down to get that last pack of toilet paper in the grocery store.

I have a friend of mine who says anarchy is just five missed meals away and he’s right. All hell breaks loose when the food supply chain breaks down. And we have to understand that, you know, survival is the most important motivator. that we have, the drive to perpetuate our gene pool. But then let’s talk about the positive side.

The positive side is scientists have studied this and in order for a person to be happy and truly thrive, they need to spend between six and seven hours every day socializing with other humans. So for the single people, it didn’t work out real well. But for those who were troop dwellers, as we were in prehistoric times where you had families and relatives and you were hunkered down with them, you probably felt pretty calm. I mean, yes, they get on your nerves and they’re annoying, but look at it troops of chimpanzees and bonobo monkeys. They get annoyed with each other too, after a while. But the reality is that we need that amount of social time to really thrive and to do well. And so I think that those people who had families or people that they could shelter in place with did very, very well and probably felt happier.

Approaches to COVID-19

Damianne: [00:12:20] Even before Prague started to loosen the restrictions, I was beginning to notice that people were getting more anxious to start socializing, to meet with friends, to meet with family, to be out in the park, to do all sorts of different activities that involve other people, especially as the weather was getting nicer. There are decisions being made on national and regional levels, but then there’s also the decision that we have to make as individuals in terms of our own behavior.

I listened to some of your interviews and you advocate more of a pyramid style to reducing or releasing the restrictions for COVID-19. 

Rebecca: [00:12:58] Right. Well, look at how we’re doing it now. We’re doing it based on what businesses got hurt the most. ththatat’s really what we’re opening up. We’re not opening up the safest businesses versus the least safe businesses, because if we were doing that, we wouldn’t be opening up tiny restaurants and hair salons and places where you really can’t get physical distancing between people. So, you know, it doesn’t have anything to do really with safety. In my view, we know who the most vulnerable population is and so we should have started with the least vulnerable and then move to the most vulnerable. Now, that would have made infinite more scientific sense to me.

So a very clear message should be out. If you have any underlying health condition of you’re over the age of 65, we want you to continue to shelter in place, right. If you’re a younger person that’s healthy, no underlying health conditions or whatever, you’re free to move about but we want you to wear a mask and we’d like you to observe social distancing and so on and so forth.

So it made more sense to slowly release the population according to their characteristics and those that make you vulnerable to a virus and those that don’t. Frankly, if you’re over the age of 65 and you have any underlying conditions, or maybe you don’t even have any underlying conditions that you know about, I don’t think that whatever the government is doing is relevant to you.

I don’t think you should be out and about. I’m not doing it. This isn’t something I’m lecturing other people. I’m telling you right now I don’t care what my local government says I can and can’t do. I don’t care what my federal government says I can and I can’t do. I don’t even care what my friends and family say I can and can’t do. I am looking at the scientific data, and for me, it’s too early. but I’m a 65 year old woman. I don’t have any underlying conditions, but I’m at risk. So I shouldn’t be out there. 

Thinking about vaccine development

Damianne: [00:15:02] What I’m hearing is as individuals with freewill, we can always make a decision regardless of what other people are telling us, what we can kind of do. And so, from your perspective, if somebody is at risk, so older, maybe with underlying health conditions, it’s still wise right now to shelter in place. 

Rebecca: [00:15:25] You know if you’re at risk and don’t listen to anyone else. If you’re at risk, you should not be out there. Now, here’s the thing. We’re not going to have a vaccine for many, many, many years. I know that everybody’s thinking there’s going to be a vaccine this fall, or next one.

Damianne: [00:15:41] It’s supposed to be in a few months, Rebecca. 

Rebecca: [00:15:43] It’s not going to happen. I will use history as evidence of this. I believe it was 1984, when AIDS was spreading like wildfire and we even thought that if a mosquito bit one person with AIDS and bit another person, it could be transmitted. We had no idea that it was only transmitted sexually and through body fluids. At that time, the head of health and human services in the United States said, Hey, we’re gonna go all out and develop an AIDS vaccine. Well, that was36 years ago. 36 years ago, we don’t have an AIDS vaccine. You know what? We’re good at? We’re good at curing a disease or treating a disease. What we can say right now is if you get AIDS, you’re not going to die of it. You don’t have to die of AIDS anymore. And that’s what we’re good at doing. And that’s what’s going to happen with COVID-19.

We’re going to have a treatment and we’re going to be able to say, Hey, you know, it’s fairly safe to go out there right now because you’ll feel really bad, and you’ll go to your doctor. Your doctor will write you a prescription and you won’t die of it, but you just will feel bad for a few weeks. You know, when that happens, then we’re going to go back to normal.

Getting back to normal

Damianne: [00:16:53] I was kind of surprised to see that most people stopped wearing their mask as soon as the government said it was okay to stop wearing your mask. And I wonder if it’s regional in terms of in the Czech Republic, there’s very much a culture of in the summertime, people go to the park and have a picnic. People go to the park and have a beer. There are beer gardens all over the city, and I sense that people are ready to go back to that, even though we’ve been sheltering in place for three months. 

Rebecca: [00:17:26] People will. They’ll return to that because we’re a social animals. You know, that’s built into our DNA. It’s not even a learned behavior. You know, we want to be with other people. Even introverts score higher on their happiness when they spend time with other people. They just don’t want to spend time with people all the time but even introverts need to have a certain amount of social contact. We only have about a less than 3% difference in our DNA from a bonobo monkey. So we can learn a lot from watching bonobo monkeys, and an alone bonobo monkey will die. Without the troop support, it can’t make it in the world. And our DNA being 97, 98% compatible with Bonobos, you know, the cat’s kind of out of the bag. We can now look at those behaviors and see what is required for humans to thrive. And one of the things that’s required for us to thrive is to belong to other humans. 

Damianne: [00:18:33] You say that the fastest and surest way to reduce risk and improve the chances of successful adaptation is to borrow what’s proven and what works. There’s so much information out there. Where are you going to, what’s a resource that you recommended as having reliable information about COVID-19?

Rebecca: [00:18:52] Well, the human vaccine project. It’s very, very good. The human vaccine project gives reports on the progress of the vaccines and what the likelihood is, and you can get very, very good information there. 

Preadaptation and predictive analysis

Damianne: [00:19:05] One of the big ideas in addition to adaptation is pre adaptation. How do you define that?

Rebecca: [00:19:15] Well, we’re going through an interesting period in human evolution, and that is that we now have super computers and artificial intelligence that can create models about the future that are really, really accurate. And so even though some of the numbers were a bit off on COVID-19, think about it in terms of, you know, being able to give people two and three days warning that a hurricane is coming so they can evacuate a city. I mean, think about how good our weather forecasts have gotten about dangerous thunderstorms or flooding conditions. And these kinds of things have allowed us to proactively do things to minimize the negative consequences. So when we see that something is bad is going to happen, we can intervene to prevent that bad thing from happening. And we’ve never had that power before. And that’s what artificial intelligence is really doing for us. It’s allowing us to foresee the future and then take some action in the present to avoid a negative consequence and that’s an extreme power.

 Our legal systems and even our morality and our ethics, don’t quite know how to handle that. That’s our biggest challenge right now. We can identify people that may be dangerous gunman, right. We can look at their behaviors. They cancel all their bank accounts. They buy a lot of guns. They buy extra ammunition. The guy who shot up the concert in Las Vegas, he sent his girlfriend away to the Philippines and sent her a hundred thousand dollars and said don’t come back. He started gambling wildly. He was on a new antidepressant about three months before that had horrendous consequences, an d he also had a history, a family history of antisocial behavior. His father was a dangerous sociopath and those qualities are heritable.

So we can look at all that profiling. And we could say this guy is acting in a way and has a genetic history that makes him dangerous. But just because we can identify that, we don’t have any legal means to start watching that person or prevent them from buying guns or prevent them from renting a hotel room above a concert, right? I mean, all of our legal system is designed to get people after the fact or during a crime. But now we have artificial intelligence and we can predict what’s your probability of getting breast cancer and we can predict the probability that a child will go to college.

We have all these models. We even have models over who are dangerous mass shooters, but we don’t have any knowledge about what to do about it. There’s no action we can take. And so we’re in a very weird spot where we have the knowledge of what the likelihood of a thing happening in the future is. And yet we don’t do anything about it. We wait and let it play out. And that’s what’s going on in the world today. 

Ethics, Morality and Choice with Big Data

Damianne: [00:22:33] That’s always something that comes up also in terms of free will being a factor, the whole idea of nature versus nurture. And so I wonder with big data and predictive analysis, what do we do with those predictions, because predictions are not fact. 

Rebecca: [00:22:54] They’re getting very close to fact, this is the problem. When you get to 99.999999% probability that any events going to occur, shouldn’t you take an action. Let’s just say, as a woman, if I have a 99.9999999% probability that I’m going to get breast cancer based on my genetic history, wouldn’t I want to do something about that before I get it. That percentage is too high not to act on it. And we’re getting to a point where our predictions are going to be a hundred percent, but you know, a lot of people say, well, that’s going to be like minority report like that movie with Tom Cruise in it, where we had the Precog police come in and arrest you before you committed the crime because we knew with a hundred percent probability, you were going to commit the crime, so why let you do it? And so there were precog judges and precog juries. It was a very strange movie. I have to remind a lot of people that are in the artificial intelligence community that that wasn’t a documentary; that was actually a film with Tom cruise in it.

But we are kind of heading in that direction, where we know something is going to happen with such great certainty, that we almost have a moral and ethical obligation to take an action before the fact. And I believe that the increasing power of artificial and predictive analytics is going to bring this to a head in our legal system, because people are going to begin suing on why didn’t you do anything?

If you knew this was going to happen, why didn’t you stop it? And we’re going to see more and more cases like that. And I think that’s going to bring it to a head. 

Damianne: [00:24:46] The thing that I wonder about with this or the thing that I think about with the whole idea of predictive analysis and what we should do with the information that we know with the predictions that we have, especially as we achieve greater levels of perfection with the predictions.

I wonder about the decision making process that should happen with this data and how the data is used. We see always that societal norms, law, governmental decisions are a bit behind in the science. What needs to happen within our society to make the decision about what to do with the data, who needs to be involved in those conversations. How do those decisions get made? 

Rebecca: [00:25:30] I believe that individuals are going to have to make that decision. And I believe that what governments need to do is give individuals the option to participate or not participate in those decisions. So as an example, you know, the government could say would you want to know what’s your likelihood of dying of these cancers?

Do you want to know that? You may say yes, I want to know that or at the time your child is born as a parent, they may say, would you like to know what the probability is that your child will contract these diseases based on their genetic profile. And as a parent, you may say, yes, I want to know.

Now let’s understand when I say, I want to know that doesn’t mean that they’re going to give you a bunch of diseases that we have cures for, or that we can do anything about. So you have to ask yourself, do I want to know that by age 30 or 40, I’m likely to catch a disease that we don’t have a cure for. Do I want to know that? Do I want that sword hanging over my head or do I just want to go live a happy, ignorant life when that data is available. Again, I believe this is going to boil down to individuals making a decision about the amount of information that they want to have. 

Now there’s other information that you don’t get to decide on. Like if a hurricane is getting ready to wipe out your city, you don’t get to decide I want to know the hurricane’s coming or not coming. Because government resources are going to have to be required to get you out and save your life. And they have a legal responsibility there. 

Damianne: [00:27:16] Well, it’s about individual good versus greater good or societal benefits as well. Because if we use this as an example…

Rebecca: [00:27:22] That’s right. The greater good has to be decided by the government, but there’s an awful lot that has to be decided by individuals. And I think we haven’t had that bifurcation yet. Ed Wilson, I refer to him a lot. I’ve never found a more succinct way to put it as Ed did.

He said we have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and Godlike technology. And that is our problem today. And he’s right. We have prehistoric instincts, but we have very old institutions that we’re relying on that have not kept up with technology and don’t reflect the real world anymore. And then we have technology that’s accelerating and moving even faster.

Think about 5G and the fact that machines can talk to other machines and don’t need a human intermediary anymore. 

Considering representation and equity in algorithms and big data

Damianne: [00:28:16] Yes, and the other thing that’s coming up for me is in terms of the development of technology. Often, governments are not involved in that process. And often the public is not involved in that process.

Rebecca: [00:28:26] Usually there are very few people making decisions about what big data is being collected and potential ways in which these big data can be used. And so I wonder, especially about the people on the fringes. A few years ago, I believe in 2013, you had an experience yourself where you were preparing a presentation and you notice that in your presentation, there were only photos of white people, for example, representing successful people, business leaders. And when you went back and looked at doing searches in different search engines, you realized this wasn’t just you picking white people, but this was actually the results of the searches that you were doing. Now, this was in 2013, but this type of societal biases show up again and again in algorithms that we generate and in the applications of big data. And so you’re absolutely right. 

I want to go back over that example because that example was really eye opening to me because I’m a technologist and so I stay on top of the latest and greatest and I never thought that I would be a victim of an algorithm. But as you point out, I was making a keynote presentation and as I started to go through, I saw all these photos of executives that were strewn throughout my presentation and there were no people of color, no Asians, no anybody. It was all white people and mostly white males. And I went, wow, I’m really racist. You know? So I Googled again, you know, I Googled, Yahoo images and Google images and I put in top executives in meeting rooms, because I had a lot of those photos strewn throughout the presentation and pages and pages came up and I realized it wasn’t me. It really wasn’t me. That algorithm had selected for those photos. 

And so I think it’s really important to know that yes, the algorithms get set and then those algorithms drive our perception in society and there’s this sort of closed loop that goes on. You know, I wind up using the photos, then I talk to thousands of people who see the photos and no one of color in boardrooms and I’m part of the perpetuation owing to that algorithm. Of course, I wrote to Google and Yahoo and said, I know this isn’t a mistake and an accident, but I just happened to notice this, that when you do this search under these categories, you get all white males.

Damianne: [00:31:07] I think this is an example of implicit bias that shows up. And one of the reasons that this happens is because of who is at the table when these types of algorithms are being tested, when those decisions are being made. How do you think of issues of equity and how that relates to our individual and societal usage of big data?

Rebecca: [00:31:31] You know, we have a long way to go. As you say, we have a lot of data, but we don’t have a lot of wisdom on how to use it. And data to a certain extent it’s predatory. We use the data for predatory reasons to take advantage, to get the upper hand, whether you’re a retailer or no matter what you’re trying to do.

And so, I think it’s very important that we realize that we have paleolithic emotions and we don’t always use tools the way they were designed to be used. So we probably need to work on wisdom and sensitivity and knowledge as much as we need to work on technology. And we’re doing it a little bit backwards right now.

The Malleable Nature of Data [00:32:43]We’re letting technology dictate how we behave rather than deciding ahead of time what kind of society, what kind of human beings we want to be. We should decide how we want to be as a society, how we want to be as individuals first and then go out and select the technologies and use them to that purpose.

The Malleable Nature of Data

Damianne: [00:32:43] I studied mathematics and data was always very interesting to me and the use of data. And there was a very popular book at the time about lies, big lies, damn lies or something like that and statistics. And so I always think of data as being very powerful because of how we can use it to forward or progress our own means. 

Rebecca: [00:33:08] But data can be manipulated. When I’m doing my research for my books, I’m often very shocked at how scientists even will manipulate data to justify their own conclusions. We’re not immune to using the data to buttress what we want to say. And so, data can be dangerous. But it also could be very useful. Again, you have to decide how you want to be. In my life, I use the data to teach people about insights that they may not have, right. Because the data is very good at showing us things that are not obvious in our day to day life. And so as a result of that, it’s very important to sometimes pull the data out and say, did you know this?

Did you know that you need six to seven hours of socializing with people to really thrive. The happiest people in the world have been surveyed. And so did you know, you need that. Most people say I don’t get six to seven hours. And I said, well, if you work, you probably are getting them at the workplace primarily.

But if you don’t work, you have to work hard to get… If you’re retired, you gotta work hard to get six to seven hours of socializing in. 

What individuals should be aware of with data

Damianne: [00:34:31] A lot of big data is used by companies and cooperations. In terms of individuals, what should we be aware of in terms of big data and things that we can apply to making progress and the change in our own lives?

Rebecca: [00:34:46] What we should be aware of is not to rely on single source information. If you find that you’re only turning the news on at five or six o’clock at night and just watching one newscast, you’re probably not getting the full picture. I watch Al Jazeera and then I’ll watch BBC. Then I’ll watch some local news and, you know, it’s that combined picture of sources. Pick a few sources that you feel are making an effort to get at the truth and that are not slamming Donald Trump or saying climate change is a joke. Cut out those extremes, even though they might be entertaining and interesting; cut out the extremes because the truth really isn’t extreme, right?

The truth tends to be kind of almost boring and factual. You know, it’s not very entertaining and it’s very important to look at numbers of news sources so that you could get down to the final one. 

Escaping the filter bubble

Damianne: [00:35:48] So looking at data and getting multiple sources, that’s definitely very important. And especially nowadays with so many people trying to tell us what to think and how to think, and with there being so much social media where we can really get into a bubble of the same information, I think it’s very important for people to be intentional. And I definitely try to do that myself with getting a variety of sources.

Rebecca: [00:36:13] And another thing is people like to listen to people they agree with. And that’s really problematic, you know? The example that I give a lot of people is here’s why it’s problematic. I noticed that if I order two or three pieces of clothing that are purple on Amazon, that pretty soon they start showing me a lot of clothing that’s purple. 

Damianne: [00:36:37] Yes. 

Rebecca: [00:36:37] And they start really limiting my focus. They now know that’s what I like. And so now they’re going to show me those options. And now I’ve created, I’ve manufactured a little bubble for myself, and that same thing happens if you keep listening to people who don’t annoy you and don’t make you want to throw things at the television or the radio or your computer.

You can’t keep listening to people that you would only agree with. I think Winston Churchill said it best. He said I have never, all my life learned anything from people I agree with. 

Damianne: [00:37:16] And the thing is that it’s not even about you creating that bubble. When we depend on social media to create those channels for us, it does it automatically. And just like when you were looking for pictures, you didn’t realize until you thought critically about it, that you were caught in that bubble, we get caught in those bubbles as well, unless we stop and think critically about what we’re observing and what’s happening to us.

Rebecca: [00:37:44] That’s a very important is thinking critically. Remember what I said about Carl Sagan saying you must be open and skeptical at the same time. And that’s very tricky. 

Damianne: [00:37:57] And one of the ways to do that is by being intentional with exposing yourself to different perspectives. 

Rebecca: [00:38:04] Yes. And it’s annoying. It makes your blood pressure go up, you know. You’ll sit there and you’ll think to yourself, what a moron. How can they even say that? And yes, it’ll bring up a lot of emotions. Maybe you’d like to avoid those emotions and you don’t want to hear that. You must try to listen to the other side, because that is one of our great assets that we have developed over many, many millions of years as modern man is a tremendous ability to empathize

Bias and conflicts of interest in the news

Damianne: [00:38:36] AlJazeera had this fantastic documentary and I will find it and put it in the show notes. I can’t think of what it’s called right now, but it was basically about how sometimes people will choose one news station over another and think that that news station is unbiased. And their point was that there is always a conflict of interest, no matter who you are. And as journalists, people are always trying to balance their own conflict of interest or their societal conflicts of interest with presenting the news in a way that’s unbiased. And that is a very slippery slope that everybody is on. 

Rebecca: [00:39:15] Yes, it is. And, you know, you always want to go back and look at your sources and how they make their money. How they make their money will tend to tell you and give you a big clue about where their bias might be.

Remembering our origins to understand our decision-making

Damianne: [00:39:31] As we end the podcast, and I’m so thankful that you joined me today, Rebecca, what do you want us to take away about adaptation and change in our own lives? 

Rebecca: [00:39:40] Well, what I’d like people to remember is that some of your decisions and behaviors are driven by prehistoric DNA. So when you don’t make the right decision or the right choice, or you find yourself doing something that you feel embarrassed about, or you wonder, you question what was my motive, that you might remind yourself that you’re a biological organism. You didn’t just drop out of space. There are prehistoric reasons for why you want to be with other people or why you feel competitive, or why I want to eat pasta and rice all the time. It makes me feel good. There are reasons for this and so don’t be so quick to get the baseball bat out and start beating yourself up, which is a common habit I see people engage in when they aren’t behaving perfectly. Remember that some of this is genetically motivated and so be patient with yourself and have a sense of humor about it like I do. 

Damianne: [00:40:47] If you want to know more about this, you can follow Rebecca’s work on her website, and on social media. You can find all the links in the show notes. She’s written two books On The Verge the newest book and the previous book, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. So you can learn more about evolutionary biology and how that affects our life and our perspective, our decision making by reading these two books.Anything that I missed or that you would like to add Rebecca? 

Rebecca: [00:41:21] Absolutely not wonderful interview. And I appreciate it very much. Look forward to seeing the final cut. 

Damianne: [00:41:27] Thank you so much. I hope you have a good rest of your Sunday. 

Rebecca: [00:41:30] Thank you. 


Damianne: [00:41:33] Thank you for listening to this episode of Changes BIG and small. Join me next week for another interview on anti-racism and Black Lives Matter. If you’ve enjoyed this episode or know someone else who will, please share it with them. I’m also interested in hearing your ideas of how to combat racism and how to fight for equality and justice. Please go to and leave a message through the contact form or through SpeakPipe. SpeakPipe lets you leave a voice message. Please join the Changes BIG and small Facebook community. Your one stop to access all of the links is

Have a great week!

in order for a person to be happy and truly thrive, they need to spend between six and seven hours every day socializing with other humans

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The truth tends to be almost boring and factual. It’s not very entertaining and it’s very important to look at numbers of news sources so that you could get down to the final one.


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