Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Irrationality? Floating rocks? Rockbergs! Feb 14, 2018

Floating ice and floating rocks, small pond on campus, March 7, 2016

Time to reread one of my favorite books, Irrationality, by Stuart Sutherland. An excuse for a few quotes. He's funny; you have to watch for it.

"What constitutes a rational decision depends upon one's knowledge. There is a rider to this. If one has reason to believe one's knowledge is insufficient, then it is rational, particularly in the case of important decisions, to seek out more evidence: unfortunately, as we will see, when people do so, they usually act in a wholly irrational way, since they only seek evidence that will support their existing beliefs." (p. 5)

"The effects of conformity on beliefs and attitudes are the more injurious because people tend to associate with others who have similar beliefs to themselves. ... the only way to substantiate a belief is to try to disprove it. But because like mixes with like, people are rarely exposed to counter-arguments to their more deeply held convictions, let alone to counter-evidence. Their beliefs conform to those of their associates: hence, there is little possibility of eliminating persistent errors. "(p. 41)

"Everyone is irrational some of the time and in particular everyone is susceptible to the availability error. I give a final striking example ... In 1969, Jerzy Kosinsky's novel Steps won the American National Book Award for fiction. Eight years later some joker had it retyped and sent the manuscript with no title and under a false name to fourteen major publishers and thirteen literary agents in the US, including ... the firm that had originally published it. Of the twenty-seven people to whom it was submitted, not one recognised that it had already been published. Moreover, all twenty-seven rejected it. All it lacked was Jerzy Kosinsky's name to create the halo effect: without the name, it was seen as an indifferent book." (pp. 28-29)

"People have an amazing capacity to remember pictures. After being shown 10,000 photographs just once they can correctly recognize almost all of them a week later. This is in marked contrast to the very poor memory for isolated words."(p. 19)

"The term 'love' was defined in an authoritative dictionary of psychology as 'a form of mental illness not yet recognised in the standard diagnostic manuals'. (p. 115) [The authoritative dictionary was written by S. Sutherland...]

Now, about those floating rocks. I have seen that pond drained. It is about knee-deep, and there are no rocks sticking up in it. What happens is that when the pond freezes over, students throw rocks out onto the ice, trying to break it. At first this doesn't succeed, and in the freeze-thaw cycles, some of the rocks get frozen to the ice. When they finally break it [that's why there are those entirely unnatural sharp edges to the ice], some of those rocks are attached to large enough pieces of ice to support them, mostly invisible under the water, and the rocks go floating around the pond. Rockbergs.

Re-examine what you see. Go over the evidence. There are floating rocks, and underground jumping rocks. More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

But real. With rational explanations.

He gives citations for almost everything, but not for the Jerzy Kosinsky story. I have to wonder who that 'joker' was who re-submitted the story...

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