Everyday, the hedgehog walks through the forest. And everyday, the fox comes up with a new way to attack him. (Foxes are clever that way.) And everyday, the hedgehog rolls into his protective shell, and the fox fails. “The fox knows many little things,” concluded the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, “but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
In this example, which philosopher Isaiah Berlin made famous in a 1953 essay, the hedgehog is superior, at least in a survival-of-the-fittest sense. But according to social scientist Philip E. Tetlock, in the human world, it’s the reverse.
Berlin used the two animals to classify great thinkers. Plato, Dante, and Hegel were hedgehogs. They each centered their philosophies around one big idea. Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Goethe were foxes. They saw the world in a more complex light — or, alternatively, they plucked insights from many different fields.
Tetlock used Berlin’s classification system to test today’s “experts” in his 2006 book Expert Political Judgment. He found that, while most experts are poor predictors, the “foxes” were correct more often. If you’re trying to predict the future, it turns out, you’re better off knowing many little things, rather than one big thing.
Now for the apology. Continue reading “The Ethical Investor: December 2010”