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The Reality Distortion Field

by Michael Shermer, Jun 19 2012

Steve Jobs’s modus operandi of ignoring reality
is a double-edge sword

Robert Friedland was a long-haired, sandal-wearing, spiritual-seeking proprietor of an apple farm commune and student at Reed College when he met Steve Jobs in 1972 and taught the future Apple computer founder a principle called the “reality distortion field” (RDF). Macintosh software designer Bud Tribble recalled, “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything.” And yet the blade could cut two ways: “It was dangerous to get caught in Steve’s distortion field, but it was what led him to actually be able to change reality.” Another Mac software designer named Andy Hertzfeld said, “The reality distortion field was a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand.” The first Mac team manager Debi Coleman said Jobs “reminded me of Rasputin. He laser-beamed in on you and didn’t blink. It didn’t matter if he was serving purple Kool-Aid. You drank it.” And yet when the power was properly channeled, “You did the impossible, because you didn’t realize it was impossible.”

The RDF is an extreme version of what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls a “pervasive optimistic bias” in his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). “Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be.” For example, only 35 percent of small businesses survive in the U.S., but when surveyed 81 percent of entrepreneurs assessed their odds of success at 70 percent, and 33 percent went so far as to put it at 100 percent! “One of the benefits of an optimistic temperament is that it encourages persistence in the face of obstacles,” Kahneman notes, while also citing study in which 47 percent of inventors “continued development efforts even after being told that their project was hopeless, and on average these persistent (or obstinate) individuals doubled their initial losses before giving up.” Failure may not be an option in the minds of entrepreneurs, but it is all too frequent in reality, which is why another bias called “loss aversion” is felt by most. Thus, Jobs’s success story is also an example of a selection bias whereby those who failed tend not to have biographies.

Jobs’s optimistic bias was off the charts. According to his biographer Walter Isaacson, “At the root of the reality distortion was Jobs’s belief that the rules didn’t apply to him. He had the sense that he was special, a chosen one, an enlightened one.” Jobs’s self-importance and will to power over rules that applied only to others were reflected in numerous ways: legal (parking in handicapped spaces, driving without a license plate), moral (accusing Microsoft of ripping off Apple when both took from Xerox the idea of the mouse and the graphical user interface), personal (refusing to acknowledge paternity of his daughter Lisa even after an irrefutable paternity test), and practical (besting resource-heavy giants IBM and Xerox in the computer market with a fraction of their budgets). Jobs’s RDF unquestionably contributed to his success in revolutionizing no fewer than six industries: personal computers, animated films, digital music, cell phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

There was, however, one reality his distortion field could not bend to his will: cancer. In 2003 Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which further tests revealed to be an islet cell or pancreatic neuroendrocrine tumor that is treatable with surgical removal, which Jobs refused. “I really didn’t want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work,” he later admitted to Isaacson with regret. Those other things included consuming large quantities of carrot and fruit juices, fasting, bowel cleansings, hydrotherapy, acupuncture and herbal remedies, a vegan diet, and, says Isaacson, “a few other treatments he found on the Internet or by consulting people around the country, including a psychic.” They didn’t work, and in the process we find the alternative medicine question, “What’s the harm?,” answered in the form of an irreplaceable loss to humanity.

Out of this heroic tragedy a lesson emerges: reality must take precedence over willful optimism, for nature cannot be distorted.

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The Reality Distortion Field, 4.8 out of 5 based on 34 ratings

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44 Responses to “The Reality Distortion Field”

  1. Mike says:

    It almost sounds like a fable.

  2. Clara Nendleshaw says:

    ‘Jobs’s RDF unquestionably contributed to his success in revolutionizing no fewer than six industries: personal computers, animated films, digital music, cell phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.’ Actually, no he didn’t, and the fact that you think he did is part of his RDF’s effect on you.
    (What follows is necessarily a summary.)
    Personal computers: Unless you are using an Apple chances are you have little to thank him for. The aspects of the Apple II that made it partly kick-start the PC revolution are better credited to Steve Wozniak and the GUI to the guys at Xerox PARC.
    Animated films: Jobs’ role at Pixar when Toy Story was produced was distant management, nothing more. His main occupation at Pixar at the time was deciding whether to sell Pixar or not; but it isn’t likely that would have mattered. More important is Disney’s insight that the time was ripe for some full CGI films, and of course the work of the staff who made it happen.
    Digital music: The only thing Apple did was release a music player and Itunes. Big deal, music players already existed and so did digital music. Maybe the Ipod was a bit shinier. But if you really want to know where the digital music revolution came from, you should look at Philips, Fraunhofer, the invention of the web and Napster.
    Cell phones: So releasing just another smartphone is revolutionising an industry? The real revolution happened at Nokia.
    Tablet computing: The Ipad was released mainly because the technology was ripe for it. Microsoft was working on a similar device (and in fact, this is why Steve Jobs decided Apple needed to build one). And apart from the question of whom to credit for this revolution, it’s questionable whether this counts as a revolution at all, especially in comparison to the other ones.
    Digital publishing: credit for the revolution goes more properly to either Adobe or Amazon, depending on your perspective (technical or distribution).
    Although Steve Jobs had some good qualities, he did not in any way revolutionise any industry, as any careful examination of history plainly shows.

    • Max says:

      But the iPhone wasn’t “just another smartphone” now was it. It didn’t copy the Blackberry’s design, but now everyone copies the iPhone’s design.

      • Ricardo Jorge says:

        Well, the iPhone’s design wasn’t made by Jobs either, so that’s a moot point in his favor.
        The iPhone was designed by Jonathan Ive.

      • Clara Nendleshaw says:

        It was well-designed (although as mentioned not by Jobs) but it was just another smartphone. It did the same things other smartphones did. Some things it did slightly better, other things it couldn’t do at all.
        Without the Iphone maybe, if no other Ive would have stood up, and that’s a big if, current smartphones would have looked a bit less shiny. Big deal.
        (Also, but this is a minor point, you say nobody copies Blackberry, but that isn’t true. Blackberry look-alikes are quite popular among a certain demographic.)

      • Max says:

        I didn’t say that nobody copies Blackberry, I said iPhone didn’t.
        Here’s the story of “How the iPhone Blew Up the Wireless Industry” and the role Steve Jobs played in it.
        http://www.wired.com/gadgets/wireless/magazine/16-02/ff_iphone

    • Dellu says:

      Brilliant!
      It is necessary to give acknowledgement for one who deserve it. You know the real engines of the innovation, sitting behind the big names. I highly appreciate your sharp points.

    • Eric Berendt says:

      Jobs was brilliant, especially in one respect: he demanded complete attention (zen mindfullness?) be paid to the project, its content and design. Was he an aggregator of others great ideas? Oh course. But so were Michelangelo, Kepler, etc., etc. He was a toy maker. Don’t forget that, although most of the encomiums to him don’t mention it. Really, just a toy maker. But, the toys he made stood out as the most desirable imaginable and defined the zeitgeist. They did so because he demanded that Apple products be complete, from concept to implementation. A critic once said that Apple customers are always grousing about how the products fall short. But that’s only because they are used to products that work, almost all the time, without thought. Everytime I install an application on my Windows machine and navigate all the gratuitous navigation alerts, I thank Darwin for Steve Jobs.

    • Kiljoy616 says:

      His distortion field is why other did anything that matter.

      We got it MS is your fangirl love interest.

      But as someone who has worked with different OS and hardware. Apple changed the industry for the better.

      Perfect no, but PC would have been nothing and Microsoft would not even exist without Steve it was the love hate interest with Gates that gave the world what we have today, look around no one else did much to bring us to a different way of see the world.

      Matters not if he wrote the code or did what a good CEO is really about vision. Bill wrote some bull code which basically changed the name of the first DOS so it looked like it was written by MS.

      The story is old now but I personally don’t think Gates was a big deal for doing code or programming in all indication he was an amateur but he was a genius at business and like jobs he was an ego maniac just like Steve from all indications. I like them both, they brought life to a part of the computer world that would have stagnated for a long time.

      Sorry but all I read was Steve was a bad person and I am going to talk trash about him. Personal he did more for consumer product than anyone else I can think of. He started or help start a trend and then others saw potential and followed.

      So get over it, give credit where its do what have you done in your life anyone would want to talk about.

  3. John H says:

    Clara nails this one. We call people visionary, revolutionary, heroic and the like far too easily. Jobs was important to all of those industries, but he was not fundamental to any of their current characteristics.

  4. Max says:

    55% of doctors gave a positive prognosis to a patient that was not warranted.
    http://americannewsreport.com/doctors-admit-lying-to-patients-8813139.html

  5. Max says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depressive_realism

    “Depressive realism is the proposition that people with depression actually have a more accurate perception of reality, specifically that they are less affected by positive illusions of illusory superiority, the locus of control and optimism bias.”

  6. Dave Rockwell says:

    What is religion but a high-powered reality distortion field?

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Bingo!

      I have a friend who is a mathematician and religious (well. sorta) and he described his religiosity in these terms (he did not come up with this analogy but I haven’t tracked down the origins of it).

      Imagine a person who wakes up every morning to find a rose on their doorstep. Waking up to the rose gives them the emotional/psychological strength to get through the day – somebody cares so much about me to do this, it makes the world so much more wonderful (etc, etc). One night they wake up from sleep-walking and catch themselves putting the rose on their own door step! Now, they have to decide how to react to this. Is the daily rose they had cherished worthless now because they found out that they are the one who cares about them?

      Does it have to be a magical being who cares about you or can it be your friends and family?

      Even though he realizes that most of the claims of his religion are false in a literal sense he derives comfort from being in the company of people who value community, ethics and goodness. It creates a feeling that he lives in a good world where bad things may happen but people care for one another… and in his church group that is not a distorted reality.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Oops. I clicked ‘submit’ prematurely:

        Like Jobs’ RDF in business, religion can create a useful fiction that helps people – boosting motivation, confidence, etc – but my friend was very careful to acknowledge that this useful fiction helps him emotionally & psychologically & motivationally but not materially (at least not directly). OTOH: that is the sort of help he seeks from religion.

        If Jobs’ had only awaken while placing his own rose, maybe he’d have realized when it is time to drop the positive mental attitude and seek material help.

      • Kiljoy616 says:

        Sound good but that rose has a price and that price is big, he may like the rose but what rose is worth the horror and pain that rose caries with it every day.

        No thanks I like reality, I have seen children die way to many times to believe some childish scary (in the bible) pathetic, vengeful god is going to rape me for not believing he hates Gays or Women or what ever some holy man thinks is wrong with the world and that I should follow.

        Friend don’t let friends live in delusion.

  7. CJ Conner says:

    Hi Michael. I have several of your books and am enjoying reading them. I would like for you to read the following and reply when you have the time.

    Aesthetics: (art) the branch of philosophy dealing with beauty and taste (emphasizing the evaluative criteria that are applied to art).

    Science , logic and reason do not apply to aesthetics though some people find beauty in all three of these. None of the three can define why a flower is beautiful, certain foods taste good or why music soothes the soul and makes us want to move our feet. Nor can they define physical attraction, emotions or love. There is an old saying that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.

    Artist types, though they may use science, logic and reason in their respective art forms rely more on concepts drawn from what is seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled or touched. Artists’ perceptions run deeper as do their sensitivities. Most artists are sensual creatures. This does not mean they are obsessed with sexually sensual matters (though they do recognize this) but they interpret the world through their senses rather than exclusively through more strict intellectual approaches.

    For scientists to ignore sensory and emotional concepts creates limitations just the same as artists that ignore science come up lacking. Atheistic scientists find that religion of any form is irrational and some artists think that scientific principles are completely unnecessary in the creative arts.

    Take for instance the example of a man and a woman that begin dating. The man is an artist type and the woman more of a logical thinker. The artist has a hard time understanding why the logical woman cannot see and feel what he does and the logical woman winds up rejecting the artist thinking that he is too emotionally sensitive, touchy-feely and romantically needy. They part ways with both feeling confused and daunted. He had found her most attractive yet stoic and she found him annoying and sexually unattractive.

    Why cannot the scientists and artists learn from each other? Many footballs players take ballet to enhance their agility and flexibility. Artists go to the gym to work out and run. There are very logical and rational people that have a deep appreciation of the arts.

    To see and interact through only one mode of thinking is like a horse with blinders on, seeing only one direction or path to travel in. A more accurate view of the world, I feel, is like looking through a kaleidoscope where the light is seen in changing patterns and multiple colors. We as humans should consider all paths of understanding and experience and explore them fully. We should exchange ideas, views, perceptions and feelings. We need to learn from each other. Scientists and artists can grow together and enhance each other’s lives. They only need be open to the exchange.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      I am a scientist and am familiar with the outside interests of many of my colleagues. One fellow sings in a local amateur opera company. Another fellow is in a jazz band. Still another dabbles in painting and artistic photography. Some enjoy literature very much – and at least one has tried writing. I don’t think that I happened to land in the only group of scientists where most have artistic outside interests. Scientists are human beings and art is a universal human experience.

      In fact, a University passed out surveys at the various on-campus activities asking about majors, etc and what they found was telling: at music, art & dance performances the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors showed up in proportion to their student population but the liberal arts students didn’t show up to the science events (e.g. talks, a partial eclipse viewing, engineering day, etc).

      Whereas it is true that some scientists are closed to art, it’s true that some artistis are closed to science. What’s more: cutting-edge scientists often put tremendous effort into ‘popularizing’ their work so lay persons can appreciate it but too often cutting-edge artists effort into making their art inaccesible to laypersons, so only the true connoisseurs can appreciate it.

      I find this highly ironic given the common perception of artists being ‘everyman’ and scientists being ‘in a ivory tower’.

    • Eric Berendt says:

      When will we stop with the dichotomies?” I’ve known physicists who are more attuned to the arts the the hippest of the avant garde. I’ve known, and am one of, those artists who cannot get enough of scientific knowledge, layman’s mathematical concepts, and the truth about our world. Human endeavor is not that compartmentalized, only jargon is. We not only need open exchanges, but we need to understand that (a) we ain’t all that different and (b) communication demands and effort to communicate _duh.

  8. BillG says:

    “I really didn’t want them to open up my body…” I’m not defending Steve Jobs and most surely not defending alternative medicine, however many invasive procedures have residual effects where the “do nothing approach” override surgery. Lately, prostate and breast cancer detections and their approach have started to shift risk/benefit thinking in mainsteam medicine.

    The rhetoric sarcasm of “What’s the harm?” can go both ways.

    • Max says:

      Roger Ebert regrets at least one of his surgeries.

      http://www.esquire.com/features/roger-ebert-0310-7

      “His doctors would like to try one more operation, would like one more chance to reclaim what cancer took from him, to restore his voice. Chaz would like him to try once more, too. But Ebert has refused. Even if the cancer comes back, he will probably decline significant intervention. The last surgery was his worst, and it did him more harm than good. Asked about the possibility of more surgery, he shakes his head and types before pressing the button. ‘Over and out,’ the voice says.”

  9. Goldarn says:

    You should really learn about the history involved before drawing conclusions from it. That applies to Clara, too.

    The flip side of pervasive optimistic bias is how the people who didn’t succeed love to minimize the contributions of those who did. A recent example is Mitt Romney’s “anybody would have gotten bin Laden” comments.

    Diminishing Steve Job’s influence in the industry by saying things like “Xerox invented the mouse and GUI first” (duh–that’s why Apple _paid_ for it, but MS didn’t—but I don’t see a lot of Xerox iPads around here, do you?) and the like diminishes everyone. I mean, it’s not like Shermer said anything important or new here—people have been saying this kind of stuff for years. He’s just another “me, too” kind of guy, just like Steve Jobs. :-)

    It’s easy to be a visionary afterwards. Steve Jobs could do it beforehand. All other ad hominems aside (like mentioning his daughter), he deserves credit for what he did, not bashing because other people want to feel important, too.

    • Clara Nendleshaw says:

      If you had actually studied the history of computing, as I have, you would have known that Steve Jobs was not a visionary, at least not the kind who revolutionised industries. Without Steve Jobs the world would have looked almost identical to the world we see now, albeit possibly slightly less shiny.
      Note that I’m not denying Xerox’s failure. But that blunder doesn’t imply that some specific other person is hence a visionary, least of all Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs didn’t bring the GUI to the average person, Steve Jobs brought the GUI to the Apple user. Bill Gates on the other hand brought the GUI to the world at large. And if it wouldn’t have been Windows, chances are one of the many other early GUIs would have taken off.
      (And your assertion that my analysis is just spite is unfounded. I’d love for there to be a number of heroes; it’s much more narratively satisfying and of course it makes it possible to think that you’ll be hero yourself one day. But it’s generally speaking just not how the world works.)

  10. Tony Cusano says:

    Your final conclusion contradicts the total reality of your heroic tragedy. Steve Jobs did not allow optimism to take precedence over reality, he chose to maintain his own values when deciding how to conduct his life. He did not fear death, or see it as a loss, but rather saw it as an inevitable transition. He chose not to be cut open because it horrified him, not because he thought it was not necessary. He sought other less invasive treatment because that was all that his personal values would allow.
    The critical lesson of the Steve Jobs story is not that reality takes precedence over willful optimism, but that all of us must chose how we will face the reality of our universe. That reality is not always as clear, as Steve Jobs’ wild successes proved. Certainly empiric probing can lead to very solid predictions based on natural reality, but our empiric capacity is limited by the amount of data we can integrate when trying to understand non-linear systems. Our brains are meant to carry us through the days of earthly reality, and the same cognitive process that gives us the ability to make predictions, and this live very successfully also requires us to take a stance as a self. Our sense of possessing an identity is a reality that skeptics seem to prefer to ignore because they cannot explain it with any empirically based theory as yet. They prefer to optimistically believe that one day we will explain it, and thus it can be taken on faith that it’s just another form of natural reality. But as Steve Jobs life demonstrates so perfectly well, identity defies explanation because it allows us to control some of the events that will emerge from our current reality. He knew how to change outcomes, even as he knew that not all could be changed. He knew death was inevitable, and chose to live the way he wanted to live while he could, rather than submit to the wishes of ohers who thought that prolonging life was more important than respecting an indicidual’s bodily integrity. Those are the kind of value judgements that we all make at many different times of our lives, and I believe that where the skeptics go wrong is in seeking to impose their own values on every individual in our world. Reality does indeed take precedence over willful optimism, but the real lesson Steve Jobs story conveys is that reality is multiple and superabundant. No one, or no group has a lock on its entire truth.

    • B Johnson says:

      ” He knew death was inevitable, and chose to live the way he wanted to live while he could, rather than submit to the wishes of ohers who thought that prolonging life was more important than respecting an indicidual’s bodily integrity.”

      He had the liver transplant though, so you *may* be slightly wrong about his motivations.

  11. David H. Eisenberg says:

    What is called the reality distortion field (“rdf”) includes the semi-deification of Mr. Jobs which is, in reality, based on his financial success. Basically, it is reported that he was a very driven, but obnoxious guy, who got people to do things that were not in any way impossible, only difficult. At the same time, he was probably quite selfish, as people like him often are. You can talk about his rdf all you want, but without the financial success, his treatment of his daughter would be considered unacceptable, his death by cancer due to neglect, mental illness. A certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness can be very profitable, but sometimes the difference between whether we see someone as a genius and success or a fool and an idiot, a great man or a disaster, is whether they made money. Perhaps that is the only real guide in the realpolitik of personal success, but I’d rather not think so. I think most people rather not think so.

    This reminds me of when I was in a pyschology class in college and the professor was talking about a personality theory (I’m thinking Erick Fromm, but I could be wrong) which included a dichotomy of traits, e.g., someone could be wilfull or obnoxious, brave/foolhardy, arrogant/confident. The truth is, whether someone is deemed one or the other really depended on whose ox is being gored, whether we “need” that person and other factors of perception looking at the same facts. I recall that in ’97 that when Apple was down Microsoft agreed to lend it a huge amount of money, I think $150 mill – I can’t remember exactly how it played out, and sort of gave it a thumbs up. This, eventually, led to Apple’s current success as much as anything. Change one fact – that this did not happen – and perhaps Apple never became the giant it did, even went the way of so many computer companies. Skeptic wouldn’t be talking here about a reality distortion field, but about the absence of critical faculties. Eventually, Jobs’ choices, based on what I read here, led to his death. I like the lines from the poem If –
    “If you can meet with triumph and disaster
    And treat those two imposters just the same”
    Whether the Jobs’ story is triumph or disaster depends on your point of view. But, the rdf, is a lot of hooey. And, I know Skeptic needs material, but sometime this year it started to cross a line and headed towards the territory of “Fate Magazine.”

  12. dave s says:

    How does the author go from talking endlessly about the power of RDF to concluding that “reality must take precedence over willful optimism”. This sounds to me like the desire to eliminate optimism, for isn’t all optimism a distortion of reality? It seems Michael has vastly over-simplified this discussion in order for the article to fit the “skeptic” world.

  13. bill wallace says:

    This is history, folks – no solid answers. Did Jobs succeed because or in spite of his abrasiveness? Or was it irrelevant? Take away this loan, or that person and what could have happened? Just about anything from even greater success to abysmal failure. Everything has multiple causes, probably dozens of them, without enough hard evidence to plug into a multiple regression formula to determine the effect of each factor.

    If there is a lesson to be learned here it is that you can tailor evidence, picking and choosing here and there, to fit more than one theory – of anything!

    History = endless speculation

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      You are kinda right but I disagree with your last line. I say:
      History =/= endless speculation.

      Professional historians rarely put serious effort into analyzing events shortly after they occurred – why? Because after the ‘dust settles’ it is easier to separate hype from fact (and a bunch of other stuff). The Jobs’ saga is the perfect example of why the professionals are not treating this seriously yet. The bickering over how much of his success was talent, attitude or luck serves to muddy the waters. After Jobs’ life ceases to be such an emotionally charged subject then professionals can step in.

      But one key thing that Dr Schermer said was that despite the apparent success of Jobs’ RDF in inspring, motivating, brow-beating and otherwise getting people to accomplish things it was ineffective in altering material reality.

  14. Mark Bellis says:

    I think Jobs was a genius at marketing – he’d take products that there already was a niche market for, like PCs, mp3 players and smart phones, and introduce products that were targeted for broad markets – interesting enough, the biggest Apple failure was the Newton, a handwriting recognition PDA that was not like any product on the market prior to it – it was successfully challenged by the Palm series that used a less tricky pen based interface.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Agreed. Jobs was a charismatic leader who could – let’s face it – manipulate large groups of people. His so called RDF extended beyond his employees to his customers.

      How else do you explain people waiting in line for hours or days to buy some gadget the day it comes out?

      How else do you explain the iPad being introduced successfully during a great recession?

      To truly appreciate the iPad phenomenon, the iPad can not do anything that a (less expensive) laptop/netbook can do, it just does it in a slicker fashion (e.g. with a touch screen instead of a keyboard and mouse). In fact, the iPad is horribly, horribly limited compared with a low cost netbook – and yet the iPad has virtually killed off the netbook. Wow!

      Yet another triumph of RDF over reality.

      • Aaron Sakovich says:

        “How else do you explain…”

        Easy. They are great products. Apple focused on one product segment and made the best possible product for that segment. There was no touch-screen phone before the iPhone. There was no 1.5 pound computer with 10 hour battery life with a simplified UI that a 2 year old or 98 year old could operate it without instruction before the iPad. There were no ultrabooks before the MacBook Air defined and Intel subsequently “invented” the category.

        Charisma only goes so far before reality sets in. The long lines on day one may be charisma, but the weeks or months of “sold out” status are the reality.

  15. Robert Neary says:

    I am not sure what the ‘moral’ of this story is; the take-away message. We can speculate that RDF was an element in the personalities of some great artists, for example, yet many of these great artists also had mental illnesses as well. Given the personality profile of a man like Jobs, it is not surprising in the least that he would seek cures for his cancer outside the norms of current medical science. Look how well RDF worked for him in all these other aspects.

    For every Magellan, Drake and Columbus, there were countless ships that sailed from Europe never to be seen again; who knows how many of these explorers held RDA components to their personalities? We will never know because those failures are not heralded in historical contexts.

    This issue of RDA reminds me of the story of the man who said his delusional brother thought he was a chicken. “Why don’t you take him to a doctor and get him cured”, he was asked. “Because we need the eggs”, the brother replied.

    Look at the delicious eggs that Mr. Jobs has left for us.

  16. Fnordling says:

    The reality distortion field is a hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder. Jobs was, among other things, a classic narcissist. Anyone with someone like this in their family can recognize the trait instantly. I read 25 pages of his bio and said to myself, “Oh, Jobs had NPD.”

  17. Tommy says:

    Mr. Jobs clearly had a strong personality. I always felt he was an excellent salesman, but not a true innovator. He recognized what people wanted (seems like the i-pad was on Star Trek along with the “paperless” concept). We have i-”things” because we like them, they are cool, and they are generally good products.

    I would propose that any time you are near someone trying to sell your something you turn on your anti-RDF.

  18. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Jobs wasn’t really smart. He was charismatic, obsessed, visionary, no doubt. But if he was really smart, he wouldn’t fall for that RDF bunk.

  19. Max says:

    Confidence doesn’t say much because of the Dunning-Kruger/Mount Stupid effect.

    Be skeptical of overly confident political, economic, and technology forecasts.
    http://longnow.org/seminars/02007/jan/26/why-foxes-are-better-forecasters-than-hedgehogs/
    “Bottom line… The political expert who bores you with an cloud of ‘howevers’ is probably right about what’s going to happen. The charismatic expert who exudes confidence and has a great story to tell is probably wrong.”

  20. Max says:

    “You did the impossible, because you didn’t realize it was impossible.”

    Reminds me of the cartoon where Wile E. Coyote ran off a cliff, hung in mid-air, read a physics textbook, and fell to the ground.

  21. Pezza Pan says:

    It seems that Steve jobs did undergo surgery in august 2004, and that his tumor has been removed: http://news.cnet.com/Jobs-has-surgery-for-cancer/2100-1047_3-5292388.html

    Out of the last paragraph in the article one might be led to conclude that Jobs refused the surgery, never was operated, and consequently died because of it. Could such formulation be a reality distortion?

    Another impportant fact is that with all the medical treatment available, after 5 years from the diagnosis this kind od cancer survive only about 4% of all patients.

  22. Greg Smith says:

    I agree with Clara Nendleshaw in the main, and while it’s important to give Johnathan Ive due credit for designing the iPhone, you need to understand the role of the company and/or executives who decided to create and launch the product. If he had been working for a different company, they might have easily said “It’s a cool idea but too expensive, where’s the software going to come from, we aren’t taking the risk”.

    Six years ago, intel had everyone convinced that if you wanted to do internet and video and stuff, you needed to have a pentium (or an AMD, which is not much different for the purposes of this discussion). The power of this advertising campaign was that it not only convinced the public but most companies fell into the same thinking, possibly because they didn’t think they could change the public’s mind (this is an RDF too).

    To me, the biggest technological impact of the iPhone is that so many people were suddenly walking around literally staring at concrete, obvious, undeniable proof that intel’s claim was false. We are now about to see ARM tablets running Windows 8; 5 years ago that seemed impossible, and I suggest that it stems from the iPhone. You could point out that media-capable smartphones were inevitable, and they couldn’t work on intel processors due to power efficiency reasons. But somebody had to break the barrier, do the technical work *and* do all the work to get past all the whining of “if it’s not Windows compatible, who’ll want to use it?” Google can also be credited with doing much work to break the Wintel stranglehold on computing, PNaCl, chrome, and gmail inline document viewing to name a few.

    For over a decade the Wintel field was characterised by gradual progress with little risk. Great new hardware features were introduced 3 or 4 letters at a time (PCI, USB, DVI, SATA) but always in concert with support from Microsoft, and Microsoft just came out with gradual improvements on the same stuff. Not to complain about that, just to point it out. And that was how they liked it, and would doubtless have continued as long as they could. It’s my opinion that the Vista fiasco was as bad is at was, in part because hardware had then matured to the point where you didn’t need to go get a new computer every 2 years for the new hardware, and Microsoft may not have realized the extent to which hardware innovation had been responsible for their OS sales.

    I see the introduction of the iPhone as a huge contrast to that slow, careful, Wintel world: Wintel has been ever burdened with the need for backward compatibility, which has always been seen as vital. The iPhone took the risk of launching an entirely new platform on a different processor, and showed, against almost all ‘normal’ thinking, that this was not only possible, but resulted in significant technical advantages.

  23. gully rider says:

    The RDF all of us have reacts with the RDF of another. The POB of Shermer is an attemt to define and identify a segment of RDF that appears to be used often within all domains be they professional or labor minions. As these “fields” interact by influencing one another Jobs had an ability not a Rasputin like trance inducing power. I have been the victim of and the creator of RDF for selfish purposes. You know “gime that crayon or I’ll push you down in the sand.” (first grade 1954) He might have been the person to be in the right place at the right time. Using the RDF acronym suggests he ehibited supernatrual powers. It was luck and money and personal vision. His genius might have been a communication/community building power which actually brought disparate groups together. We can use more of this kind of vision.

  24. Carole says:

    The unknown is what would have happened had Steve Jobs done the pancreatic surgery in 2003. It would clearly ALSO be an RDF to assume that Steve would have been just fine had he done the surgery immediately. When Steve said he regretted not doing the surgery, he may still have imagined (RDF) that he was certainly supposed to live a much longer life and just made a wrong move. The statistics show otherwise:

    “According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 4%. These low survival rates are attributable to the fact that fewer than 20% of patients’ tumors are confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis; in most cases, the malignancy has already progressed to the point where surgical removal is impossible.”

    Steve lived 8 years after his diagnosis. Looking at facts and figures instead of conjecture, it appears Steve Jobs BEAT the odds through whatever alternative therapies he was using, just like he always beat the odds.