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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

How Mistakes Can Save Lives

What surgeons can learn from pilots. Pilots are surrounded by rules and systems designed to contain their mistakes; their fallibility is assumed. Surgeons are trusted to be the best judges of their situation, whatever the situation might be. So when Martin Bromiley, a pilot, lost his wife to a doctor’s elementary misjudgement, he decided it was high time to export some of aviation’s safety culture to medicine (6,580 words)

Why The Mona Lisa Stands Out

It wasn’t always considered the greatest painting of all time. Nineteenth-century critics preferred Titians and Raphaels. The Mona Lisa achieved iconic status only when it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and recovered two years later. That exploit made it the most famous painting in the world; the cumulative effect of repeated exposure has persuaded us that it is also the best; it comes “wrapped in inherited opinions” (1,730 words)

42 Reflections On The Meaning Of Life

Notes from “a newly minted 42 year old” about life, the universe and everything. Much wisdom in a small space. “The closer you get to the boundaries of social acceptability in any conversation with a new acquaintance, the more interesting that conversation will be. This is a great rule to bear in mind if you want more interesting conversations. But never, ever seek to apply this rule when drunk” (1,800 words)

Everyone Should Wear A Veil In Court

“When a jury is trying to come to a decision, they need to take all sorts of information into account. What a witness is doing with their face while talking is, to a large extent, noise in the data, a hindrance to the search for truth. In their study, Bond and DePaulo found that ‘people are more accurate in judging audible than visible lies’. If niqab-wearing women make us pay attention to this flaw in the system for the first time, isn’t that a good thing? (700 words)

In Praise Of Malcolm Gladwell

“His finest pieces are put together like a Bach cantata: the themes are introduced, then played in counterpoint, building to a polyphonic climax. They are full of feints, false leads and playful misdirects that make the insights, when they arrive, all the more thrilling. Have you ever read a Malcolm Gladwell piece and failed to experience the almost sensual pleasure that comes from being told a good story while having your intellect tickled?” (1,080 words)

Too Much Information

On privacy, human nature, and internet sharing. Our instincts haven’t yet evolved to incorporate Facebook. “Over time, we will probably get smarter about online sharing. But right now, we’re pretty stupid about it. Perhaps this is because, at some primal level, we don’t really believe in the internet. Humans evolved their instinct for privacy in a world where words and acts disappeared the moment they were spoken or made” (2,000 words)

The Picasso Effect

“Certain innovations have the power to reset reality. Cubism, like Darwin’s theory of evolution, Edison’s lightbulb, or Apple’s iPhone, was an idea that made everything around it seem instantly obsolete.” But genius is no guarantee of success. The market must be receptive. It must be primed for change by other events. “The moment has to be moving towards the innovator. But the innovator must still reach out and seize the moment” (1,190 words)

Ambivalence Is Awesome

I missed this when first published, for which, shame on me. Fine short essay on the virtues of ambivalence — as distinct from indifference, or simple confusion. Ambivalence means you can see, and find some value in, both sides of a question. Which, a lot of the time, is a good thing. A pity there is not more room for it in public life, where politics is increasingly polarized, and uncertainty or willingness to compromise is taken for weakness (1,900 words)

Non Cogito, Ergo Sum

Don’t overthink it. “When a footballer misses a penalty or a golfer fluffs a putt, it is because they have become self-conscious. By thinking too hard, they lose the fluid physical grace required to succeed”

In Search Of Serendipity

On the joy of finding things we are not in quest of. And why modern life doesn’t always help. The Internet is awesomely efficient but has also narrowed our horizons. Google can’t tell you what you didn’t know you wanted to know

Crowds R Us

“Crowds, we are often told, are dumb. They obliterate reason, sentience and accountability, turning individuals into helpless copycats.” Which is misleading. Crowds do indeed change our behaviour. But often for better. Not for worse

Amanda Knox: What’s In A Face?

“We all have an inherent bias towards assuming that we can discern a person’s inner mental state simply by observing them.” And for Amanda Knox, this proved disastrous. Excellent piece looks at dangers of judging by appearances

Ten Of The Greatest Liars In History

A bit of fun. Everyone from God, via Bill and Bernie, to you. Yes, you. And me. And not forgetting Jonathan Aitken with his “simple sword of truth and trusty shield of British fair play”. What a laugh that was

Are Artists Liars?

Both artists and liars refuse to accept “the tyranny of reality”. In fact, our storytelling and our lies have a common neurological root. We often self-censor the lies. But maybe art evolved as a socially useful outlet for lying

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