Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

by Hans Rosling

Factfulness reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective. This includes our tendency to divide the world into two camps, how we consume media (where fear rules) and how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world and empower you to respond to the crises and opportunities of the future.

Summary Notes

The Gap Instinct

“The gap instinct makes us imagine division where there is just a smooth range, difference where there is convergence, and conflict where there is agreement.”

The Gap Instinct refers to our tendency to divide things into two conflicting groups. This tendency creates a gap between them, which we wrongfully overlook.

Let’s say we think of the level of development of the countries. We would categorize countries into two groups: low developed and highly developed. This approach is wrong because the number of countries with high or very low poverty levels is very low. However, the average person lives in a middle-level developed country. 

To avoid creating an imaginary gap, we must look for the majority. This is how we enhance the chances of creating a highly accurate and fact-based opinion on such subjects.

Actions to take

The Negativity Instinct

“When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may conclude that nothing we have tried so far is working and lose confidence in measures that actually work.“

We have the tendency to concentrate on the bad rather than the good. This negatively impacts our mental health as we tend to diminish the importance of the good things in our life.

People tend to extract only the bad things in different situations, but what if all the bad things can lead to improvement? To overcome the Negativity Instinct, we must accept those bad things actually occur, but we need to remind ourselves that the world can improve. 

Some people think that avoiding hearing the bad news will help them. The truth is, we can’t escape them. We need to learn how to process the bad news because these are more likely to be talked about. We also need to pay attention to the good things around us.

Some examples of bad things that decreased over the years are; slavery, the death penalty, and bad deaths. On the other hand, some good things that have become more frequent in the past decades are the internet, science, and democracy.

Actions to take

The Straight Line Instinct

“The best way of controlling the instinct to always see straight lines—whether in relation to population growth or in other situations—is simply to remember that curves naturally come in lots of different shapes. Many aspects of the world are best represented by curves shaped like an S, or a slide, or a hump, and not by a straight line.”

The Straight Line Instinct reflects humans’ tendency to expect events to move in a straight direction, meaning we imagine all things moving at the same rate and in a direct line. In reality, not all developments in our lives evolve in a particular and uniform direction. For example, a newborn's growth is not the same in the first twelve months, nor is it expected.

This instinct of ours is nothing but a misconception of how we wish things in our lives would happen. We are disappointed when our career or personal plans deviate from our initial plan. But, this is a very poor misjudgment that burdens many people when encountering ups and downs. 

It is completely wrong to expect our evolution as human beings to happen “in a straight line.” These “dips” in our lives should not be viewed as harmful as we make them seem. Instead, we need to realize that any downward or even upward movement in our plans can be an opportunity for us to learn and grow. 

Imagine if all of our plans come true exactly as we envision them. Sure, it feels satisfying to reach your goals. But how much growth do you experience? 

The purpose of life is to embrace its unexpected twists and turns and how many other things, which we cannot imagine accomplishing, are beneficial to all of us.

Actions to take

The Fear Instinct

“Fear can be useful, but only if it is directed at the right things.”

Fear is a basic human instinct that is very important for our survival. However, this human trait can do more harm than good when it is not directed into the right things. When fear overshadows critical thinking, it becomes dangerous for us. When we feel fearful, we do not think clearly.

Nowadays, it is very common for us to hear more bad news than good news. But, we never consider that we live in the safest period of time. For example, approximately 40 million flights each year land safely, yet we only hear news about ten flights that crashed. When we concentrate only on our society's negative events, we increase humankind's fear. 

If you were to think more critically, you would notice that the things we fear the most are usually the events that are unlikely to happen. People fear plane crashes, accidents, earthquakes, and tsunamis, but the truth is the probability of experiencing these events is less likely than them not happening. 

We need to accept both bad and good things happen to us every day without our knowledge. It is our choice towards where we gravitate our energy and worry.

Actions to take

The Size Instinct

“So even if all the places out there were just as safe as your place, hundreds of terrible events would still happen there. If you could keep track of each separate place though, you would be surprised how peaceful most of them were.”

Our minds often disproportionate the importance of specific events presented to us. The media often play a huge role in our judgment sine they thrive on getting “the sensational” into the spotlight. However, we should not let our rationality be overshadowed by taking everything as it is.

Usually, we are impressed by larger numbers. But, this is often a mistake. For example, when we think of child mortality and how it has decreased over the years, we tend to associate this positive event with the evolution of our health care. The truth is these positive changes often happen due to other preventative measures outside of hospitals.

The reason we tend to get distracted easily and give more importance to larger numbers is that it is harder to understand them. So we need to compare and divide these numbers. 

By comparing numbers to other relatively similar concepts, you will better understand whether that number is important or not. When you divide the number, you give it another meaning.

Actions to take

The Generalization Instinct

“It can make us mistakenly group together things, or people, or countries that are actually very different. It can make us assume everything or everyone in one category is similar. And, maybe most unfortunate of all, it can make us jump to conclusions about a whole category based on a few, or even just one, unusual example.”

Generalization is convenient for our human mind. We need to keep track and organize our thoughts. We need to memorize facts and remember events. That’s why the generalization instinct can be helpful as long as we keep it under control. 

For instance, when we compare two countries from the same continent, we are inclined to give them more similarities than differences. However, even if this generalization helps us remember one of the most important aspects of these countries, it makes us see more similarities between two totally different things. 

The Generalization Instinct often gives us a distorted reality, leaving out bits of important information. To maintain our vision clear, we need to keep track of all facts that make us label certain factors as similar.

Actions to take

The Destiny Instinct

“The destiny instinct is the idea that innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions, or cultures. It’s the idea that things are as they are for ineluctable, inescapable reasons: they have always been this way and will never change. “

The Destiny Instinct is described as our tendency to think that certain things or people are the way “they are meant to be.” This type of belief system makes us believe that things are never changing. 

The truth is that our values and cultures are in constant movement. We don’t live the same way our grandparents did. The Destiny Instinct comes from our belief that things have always been specific, as we have lived our lives surrounded by things that don’t change as much.

If you don’t notice big changes, it doesn’t mean there’s no change at all. Some things just take more time to change, and they become unnoticeable.

Actions to take

The Single Perspective Instinct

“We completely misunderstand the world. I call this preference for single causes and single solutions the single perspective instinct.”

Our problems seem easier to solve by adopting one solution. However, the world is very complex, and there is more than just one perspective to look at. Considering multiple viewpoints or adopting more than one opinion can make us understand everything around us.

To give up the Single Perspective Instinct, you must look beyond your beliefs. Test your ideas and concepts on others who have diverse perspectives. Try to understand their viewpoints, concepts, and ideas and extract their weaknesses.

Overlooking data can also sometimes be helpful. This is because some things are better explained by going beyond numbers or statistics. If you want to get more knowledge and be more aware of the world, you have to exceed your beliefs and inspect others’ perspectives, too.

Actions to take

The Blame Instinct

“We like to believe that things happen because someone wanted them to, that individuals have power and agency: otherwise, the world feels unpredictable, confusing, and frightening.”

The Blame Instinct is defined by our tendency to find a clear motive for why bad things happen in the world. We may think that we have the most power over this world, that people are the main cause of why wrong things happen–but this is not the case.

People are a result of how our society works. We tend to exaggerate the importance of people in negative events. This perspective blocks our understanding of clear causes for why we encounter problems. The truth is that those bad things happen for various causes. 

To control this instinct, we need to look into “the system” - the combination of these multiple causes. We don’t need to look for bad individuals to blame or heroes who can save us.

Actions to take

The Urgency Instinct

“The urgency instinct makes us want to take immediate action in the face of perceived imminent danger. “

In the past, the Urgency Instinct was our way of survival. We had to act fast in the face of dangers. Today that is not often the case. We tend to become overstressed as we fear things we cannot control. Thinking that we need to act immediately in the face of danger makes us not think clearly and analytically. 

Only a few problems are urgent and need an immediate response. But, people react the same way when encountering any dangerous circumstances. There are certain problems, such as a global pandemic or wars, in which we need to contribute with other people to find a solution. If the dangerous circumstance does not fall under this category, then the Urgency Instinct will only impede our judgment.

You need to take more time to digest the information and find a stable solution. Also, don’t fall prey to predictions or superstitions. No one can predict the future.

Actions to take

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