Friday, September 16, 2011

Playing the Odds

It’s been said time and again that people are poor judges of probabilities, especially when any meaningful degree of precision is called for. Whether you see this as a facet of the collective construct of socialization we call human nature or simply a limitation of the human condition due to the working of the brain, this fact has been demonstrated over and over again. People tend to weight a potential risk of loss much higher than a comparable opportunity for and equal gain and they tend to weight the risk of rare but mediagenic (interesting) occurrences as much higher than the risk of common but mundane happenings. And of course, they tend to underestimate the risks inherent in any activity that they have become emotionally invested in.

However, as in so many other things, we believe ourselves to be more capable in this area than we otherwise are, often insisting that our understandings of the probabilities are correct even when it can be directly demonstrated that they are not; and sometimes, even when we are shown why.

As a result, any system that requires that people be able to accurately assess risks and opportunities for it to function properly is, in effect, doomed to eventual failure in a critical area. By the same token, any system that bases itself on the inaccuracy of human assessments (and on telling the people who made them that they are, in fact, accurate) becomes beholden to those inaccuracies; and must then concern itself with conforming appearances to the skewed reality that the flawed assessments predict, rather than what reality dictates. As time goes on, the fact that each flawed assessment is flawed in its own way requires an ever increasing number of doctored appearances, and/or the contention that appearances that differ too greatly from the preferred, including those that mirror reality, are at best incorrect and at worst deliberate fabrications.


JohnMcG said...
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JohnMcG said...

On the other hand, this keeps humanity going.

Aaron said...

True enough. But I've always been leery of people who thought that having children would make them happier.

But I think that many people who have been parents find the experience worthwhile and rewarding, even if it didn't make them happier than they had been before.

Personally, I know that I lack the requisite patience to be a parent, so I'm happy that I never tried it.