Saturday, October 02, 2004


This week's class was particularly interesting to me because of the discussion of how people do not rationalize according to probability. Using my terms, they appear to interpolate using coarse descriptors.

Example: which is more probable: a earthquake in California resulting in a tidal wave that will kill 1000 people OR an earthquake in North America that will kill 1000 people.

More people choose the former, even though the latter is more probable. Why? Because one's conception of North America is basically Nebraska and what earthquakes exist in Nebraska? Obviously, earthquakes are a California thing.

We also discussed empathy at length, conversing about different research on how empathy operates in the brain. Basically, you have until about the age of 5 to build empathy. In a strict father culture, empathy is not something that is nurtured and thus it tends to die away. This devolved into a conversations about whether or not libertarians were the ultimate un-empathetic creatures...


Bree said...

"one's conception of North America is basically Nebraska and what earthquakes exist in Nebraska?"

I live in Vancouver, Canada and when I thought of an earthquake in North America I thought of it happening either here (we've been expecting 'The Big One' for years now) or California.

I actually never think of Nebraska when I think of North America. I knew already that many people automatically think of the US when they think of North America, but I didn't realize that within your own country you'd have the same blinded "conception" when you generalize. And why Nebraska? It's the last place I would have picked to conceptualize North America.

8:58 AM  
coturnix said...

Read books by John Allen Paulos, e.g., "Innumeracy" and "Mathematician Reads the Newspaper" for many examples how people have no intuitive (or learned) grasp of statistics or quantities beyond 4 apples and 3 oranges.

There is also a great little book, I think it's title is "How to lie with statistics" or something like that....

9:54 PM  

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