Of all the things that interest me most in the world, I think humans might top the list. I’m a scientist at heart and I love to categorize things and learn the rules that apply to situations. Humans have this manifest ability to evade any and all attempts to be classified which simultaneously fascinates and repels me. The cultural concept of value is a good example. Value is one of those human things that is entirely subjective and just can’t be nicely typed. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, yo (Peter Griffin would have loved this). But for certain values of trash, it’s treasure for all. “Value” is, ironically, a value term. Only those things that we perceive to have value have value; the mere word is a tautology. Everything has
some value, but the amount of value we assign to something is purely cultural. In Western culture we conflate value with money and the two terms are essentially interchangeable. If something is considered “valuable”, that means that thing can be parlayed into money. And we value money above all. Us Westies perceive rich people as smart. We figure that if someone figured out how to get rich, that’s because they’re smart. We may have no idea how they got rich but that doesn’t matter. They may be honest-to-goodness ninja traders sleeping in a tent on the NYSE floor, or they may be perpetually high on meth and can’t do simple algebra BUT they hired the guy sleeping in the tent on the floor of the NYSE. Either way, that (non-tent) guy is smart because he figured out how to get rich. The judgement that
money == smart is a cultural bias based on the value western culture places on money. Consider that if meth guy’s skill was being shit-hot at trapping alligators and piloting swamp boats, he would not be so smart in our cultural opinion. He’d be talented. He’d be experienced. He’d be a really interesting story at the pub. He’d have a reality show. But he wouldn’t be smart. Because our culture doesn’t value alligator trapping. I think it’s pretty obvious that trapping crocs requires a much broader skillset than trading financials. I’ve seen how quickly trading prices change so I’d argue croc trapping and stock trading require equal mental acuity, but the skills required to trade essentially end there. There’s no boatman-ship involved, no weapon handling required and certainly nothing that’s going to eat your face off when you blink involved. There’s a pretty compelling argument afloat that science is unable to be purely subjective because there’s no way for any of us to remove ourselves from ourselves. I think the cultural concept of value is a good example of this and provides a big mental playground to run around.