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Behavior Letters

Need more quotes? Extracts from books on Behaviour

Seth Godin

In the face of billions of dollars of destruction, of the loss of life, of families distrupted, it's easy to wonder what we were so hung up on just a few days ago. Many just went face to face with an epic natural disaster, and millions are still recovering. Writer's block or a delayed shipment or an unreturned phone call seem sort of trivial now.

We're good at creating drama, at avoiding emotional labor and most of all, at thinking small. Maybe we don't need another meeting, a longer coffee break or another hour whittling away at our stuckness.

There's never been a better opportunity to step up and make an impact, while we've got the chance. This generation, this decade, right now, there are more opportunities to connect and do art than ever before. Maybe even today.

It's pretty easy to decide to roll with the punches, to look at the enormity of natural disaster and choose to hunker down and do less. It's more important than ever, I think, to persist and make a dent in the universe instead.

We've all been offered access to so many tools, so many valuable connections, so many committed people. What an opportunity.

Gait Identifies

I read your story on identifying people using "soft" biometrics, such as ear shape (30 November, p 22). I have long regarded gait as a surefire identifier.

Many people found my identical twin sisters hard to distinguish. The only time I had difficulty was when they were at a distance, but it only required one of them to stand or walk away and they were instantly recognisable.

Frankly, I doubt there are any more personal characteristics than the manner in which we bear ourselves, walk, run, sit down or stand up – or even the way in which we drink a cup of tea.


According to Graham Lawton, "Beliefs, more than anything else, are what make us human" (4 April, p 28). I guess I'm not human, then, since I decided as a geeky astrophysics student many years ago to live in an evidence-based world in which beliefs are replaced by working hypotheses.

At least, I think I did, unless somebody produces strong evidence to the contrary. Once you renounce beliefs, life seems very straightforward, and totally self-consistent. I don't believe in global warming, but I think there's strong evidence to support it. I don't believe in the scientific method, but it seems to work remarkably well, so far. I don't believe in god, but wouldn't it be awesome if somebody produced evidence for a god? (I invite gods to try their hand at this).

A world without rigid intolerant belief is probably a gentler, kinder, more fault-tolerant world, with less persecution of those who don't share our beliefs. Whether you have (irrational) beliefs or (evidence-based) working hypotheses probably makes little difference to daily life, but an enormous difference to the way you view the world. I am always aware of the possibility that anything I say, including this sentence, is wrong.

Racism, sexism and all the other nasty-isms could probably not survive without belief. Unless I believe I'm superior to you, it's very difficult to justify killing you, or discriminating against you.


Aviva Rutkin focuses on the wrong sort of human behaviour when comparing human and artificial intelligence (NS 19 March, p 20). The human brain is not designed to be good at chess, Jeopardy or Go.

Even object manipulation is not one of our fortes. It is the things we do socially that a machine will find very hard to match. Making sure granny is offered the last cucumber sandwich at a tea party, or ceasing to discipline a child when you sense you may go too far, for example. When machines can model human behaviour in groups, in all its recursive splendour, only then will we have a real challenge on our hands.