Two examples of blinkered thinking:
1. Jeff Lewis, the incredibly entertaining lunatic at the center of Flipping Out, the real-estate reality television show on Bravo, fires his psychic because she wasn’t doing a good job of predicting the future. So what does he do? He goes and hires a different psychic. I’m fascinated by this thought process. On the one hand, Jeff’s empirical enough to realize that his psychic sucked. But he never even flirts with the possibility that all psychics suck. I know that we all have our rational blind spots, but rarely are they so elegantly captured on television.
2. I’ve recently been spending some time, perhaps too much time, with a few professional poker players. In general, these guys are mathematical freaks, able to crunch complicated probabilities in a split second. They tend to look at card hands like an insurance agent looks at a customer: no sentiment, just cruel cold statistics. Bayes would be proud.
And yet, I’ve never encountered a more superstitious bunch of individuals. (A common quip on the pro circuit is that “It’s unlucky to be superstitious”.) These guys have more nonsensical habits than Martin Luther. The best story I heard was that Jamie Gold, the 2006 winner of the WSOP, ordered scrambled eggs for breakfast everyday during the tournament even though he’s allergic to eggs. But Gold was convinced that eggs made him lucky.
What’s the moral? The mind has an astonishing capacity for contradiction. We can be good Bayesians and superstitious at the same time. That reminds me of a story a neuroscientist recently told me, about the addicted gambler who refused to give up his health insurance. The guy was flat out broke – and clearly loved engaging in risky games while inside the casino – but refused to tolerate the risk of a high-deductible. We sure are a funny species.
Got any other examples of inconsistent thinking? And please resist the obvious one about the scientist who believes in God…
Update: Somehow I wrote a whole post about internal contradictions without mentioning the one currently making headlines. The self-blindness (or is it just cynical political hypocrisy) demonstrated by Larry Craig and David Vitter is rather astonishing. But that’s another post.