Friday, July 15, 2011

How We Know What Isn't So: A Commentary

Logic is failing today in modern society, at least according to Thomas Gilovich. How We Know What Isn’t So overviews the instances in modern society where the biases from our individual backgrounds influence our logic in viewing statistics and data. The passages are informative and self-critical. The book tells us our problems upfront and implies way that we can combat them.

In How We Know What Isn’t So I particularly enjoyed the first section of Cognitive Determinants of Questionable Beliefs and more specifically the chapter in the first part called Something Out of Nothing. In this chapter the author, Thomas Gilovich, goes into detail about how in human nature there is a need to see order in chaos where there is none. Each day we are faced with random events and more often than not we fail to see them for what they actually are, just a pure instance of probability. As a coin is flipped into the air it is heads, tails and both at the same time.

I live relatively close to Philadelphia, PA and everyone knows the infamous Philly sports fans. Everyone has their superstitions. I grew up with “if you knock over the salt, throw some over your left shoulder” and “when on a boat, never bring a banana”. However, the erroneous beliefs of some Philly fans tend get out of hand more often than they are good for.

I have two personal experiences firsthand of the excessive questionable actions because of erroneous beliefs. During a certain Eagles-Giants game, the room had fans of both teams that were in the game. As the game progressed, the Eagles fans retreated several times to the garage of the house to have a cigarette. They tended to smoke more when their team wasn’t doing well. During one of these smoke breaks, the woman of the Eagles fans started to kick one of the poles in the garage and coincidently during her exertion of anger on the pole, the Eagles scored a touchdown. A reasonable human being would just get back into the game and keep watching. However, if their actions were reasonable I would not be writing about the details. They decided that as long as the woman continued to kick the pole in the garage, the Eagles would play better. Of course, as odds would have it the Eagles won.

Now it does not take a rocket scientist to understand the flaw in the Eagles fan’s logic. There is a saying that my dad told me in reference to sports and that is “any given Sunday”. The saying means that at any point during a sports game, the game can go either way. There are too many factors involved in the outcome of a game for the ending to be swayed by a single event. The underlying idea behind the saying is randomness. Randomness is also the idea behind the chapter in the book and the inevitability of humans to place logic to the illogical. The Eagles fans based their actions off of one of the basic principles of erroneous beliefs, Confirmation rather than refutation. Since the woman was kicking the pole while the Eagles scored it was a confirmation that her actions caused the touchdown. However, if the woman kept kicking the pole through the whole game, it is inevitable that the Eagles would score while she was kicking the pole because of the nature of the game.

1 comment:

  1. I can't imagine what may have happened had she danced on a pole rather than kick it! However, I will let my kids know (we are Philly fans) that as long as there are poles to kick their are games to be won! Thanks for this story.