Cognitive scientists commonly wrestle with what’s known as the explore-exploit trade-off, which has become a powerful model for me in understanding my preferences as a human.
When we’re exploring and gathering information, we’re open to new ideas as we experience a child-like enchantment with nuance and details of the present moment.
When we’re working to accomplish any task, basic or complex… we’re exploiting the data we already have in service of that prime directive. The adult mind understandably biases this mode of operation.
What probably comes as no surprise–brain scans of the adult brain on psychedelics is similar to a child’s brain, seemingly operating in more of the explore mode.
While I may have a preference or bias to one mode over the other, what’s important to me is that they are both important and have trade-offs I want to be intimately familiar with. When I’m exploiting, I’m trading my ability to enjoy the wonder of the moment and nourish myself by expanding my awareness. When I’m exploring, I’m trading my efficiency at getting things done… such as feeding myself of paying the rent. As always, I want to strike a balance and know how to employ each mode appropriately.
This is one of the many fascinating subjects explored and exploited in this important conversation with UC Berkeley psychology and philosophy professor Alison Gopnik on the Ezra Klein Show. I was introduced to Alison’s writings as some of the most interesting work being done in developmental psychology, which is a passionate subject of mine–as well as one of the most explored areas in the Integral community. Her most recent book, the Gardener vs Carpenter, is a powerful and unique perspective on parenting and childhood development. This podcast conversation has my highest recommendation.