15. Underestimating importance of remote events (temporal discounting)
It is a natural tendency of human reasoning to assign lesser importance to events which are distant in space and/or time. This is called discounting, and quantified with a variable known as the discount rate. It obviously makes sense in an evolutionary context, but in the modern age, the usefulness of our ancestral intuitions is beginning to waver16. A hundred thousand years ago, in the environment in which humans evolved, there was no such thing as a nuclear missile, or a drone that can travel around the world and hit you with a bomb in a few hours. Today, global risks might originate from distant lands and decades in the future, but we might need to begin preparing for them now. We can hardly do that if we engage in hyperbolic discounting, that is, completely ignore risks outside of a certain time or space window, say, 5 years in the future. We might rationalize ignoring such risks by saying there is nothing we can do about them, but there most certainly is something we can do about them. Look at the grassroots effort to deal with global warming; this is an example of a risk that is being prepared for far in advance.