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No one deserves to be famous

Our understanding of fame is critical to how we see each other and our society. But it is also badly wrong. Let me tell you why. We humans are storytelling and story-finding machines: homo narrativus, if you will. In making sense of the world, we look for the shapes of meaningful narratives in everything. Even in science, we enjoy mathematical equations and algorithms because they are a kind of universal story. Fluids—the oceans and atmosphere, the blood in your body, honey—all flow according to a single, beautiful set of equations called the Navier-Stokes equations.

In our everyday, human stories, far away from science, we have a limited (if generous) capacity to entertain randomness—we are certainly not homo probabilisticus. Too many coincidences in a movie or book will render it unbelievable and unpalatable. We would think to ourselves, “that would never happen in real life!” This skews our stories. We tend to find or create story threads where there are none. While it can sometimes be useful to err on the side of causality, the fact remains that our tendency toward teleological explanations often oversteps the evidence.

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