the invisible gorilla-christopher chabris and daniel simons

“some call it evolution, some say intelligent design”

i guess the apes (and whether or not i’m smarter than one) are still on my mind. this one is because of the scientific american 60-second mind podcast dedicated to the experiment where folks were asked to count passes for two teams in a basketball game. they were so engrossed that they didn’t notice a gorilla until the videotape afterwards. i’m brought back to remi vicente’s TOK 11 lecture on the topic: “the natives didn’t see the ships”, basically, we don’t see things that we don’t know to look for. there’s a lot of malcolm gladwell haterade gulped within these pages, and i kind of lost interest, but we made it through. here’s a gem:

“Seventy-two percent of people agreed that ‘most people use only 10 percent of their brain capacity.’ This strange belief, a staple of advertisements, self-help books, and comedy routines, has been around so long that some psychologists have conducted historical investigations of its origins. In some ways, it is the purest form of the illusion of potential: In some ways, it is the purest form of the illusion of potential: If we use 10 percent of our brain, there must be another 90 percent waiting to be put to work, if we can just figure out how. There are so many problems with this belief that it’s hard to know where to begin. Just as some laws cannot be enforced because they are written too imprecisely, this statement ought to be declared ‘void for vagueness.’ First, there is no known way to measure a person’s ‘brain capacity’ or to determine how much of that capacity he or she uses. Second, when brain tissue produces no activity whatsoever for an extended time, that means it is dead. So, if we only used 10 percent of our brain, there would be no possibility of increasing that percentage, short of a miraculous resurrection or a brain transplant. Finally, there is no reason to suspect that evolution-or even an intelligent designer-would give us an organ that is 90 percent inefficient. Having a large brain is positively dangerous to the survival of the human species-the large head needed to contain it can barely exit the birth canal, leading to a risk of death during childbirth. If we used only a fraction of our brain, natural selection would have shrunk it long ago.” (198-9)

so there.


One thought on “the invisible gorilla-christopher chabris and daniel simons

  1. the science:

    “These situations are especially troubling because they run counter to our intuitions about the mental processes involved in attention and perception. We think we should see anything in front of us, but in fact we are aware of only a small portion of our visual world at any moment. The idea that we can look but not see is flatly incompatible with how we understand our own minds, and this mistaken understanding can lead to incautious or overconfident decisions.” (13)

    “The ‘con’ part of ‘con man,’ ‘con artist,’ and ‘con game’ is short for confidence. The original ‘confidence man’ was a grifter in the 1840s named William Thompson, who had the audacity to approach strangers on the streets of Manhattan and simply ask them to hand over their watches. Attempting this gambit required Thompson to somehow gain the confidence of his marks; amazingly, he was able to do this while explicitly asking them, ‘Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?’” (99)

    “In medicine, the confidence cycle is self-perpetuating. Doctors learn to speak with confidence as part of their training process (of course there may also be a tendency for inherently confident people to become doctors). Then patients, mistaking confidence for competence, treat doctors more as priests with divine insight than as people who might not know as much as they profess to. This adulation in turn reinforces the behavior of doctors, leading them to be more confident. The danger comes when confidence gets too far ahead of knowledge and ability.” (105)

    “Albert Einstein is said to have recommended that ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.’ The Foolish Four, the Nifty Fifty, and their ilk unfortunately fall into the ‘simpler’ category. They can’t adapt to changes in market conditions, they don’t account for an inevitable decrease in their profitability when more people adopt the same strategies, and they often assume that trends in historical financial data will recur in the future. By basing their projections so closely on past data patterns (a statistical foible known as ‘overfitting’), they are guaranteed to go wrong once conditions change.” (129)

    “When it comes to assessing the long-term characteristics of an investment, sometimes having more information can result in less real understanding. What the Thaler group’s experiment showed was that paradoxically, people who got the most feedback about the short-term risks were least likely to acquire knowledge of the long-term results.” (137)

    “When your Internet connection goes down, though, your ‘set’ no longer has access to the information you thought was inside it. Similarly, the experiments in which we don’t notice people changing into other people reveal how little information we store in our memories. We don’t need to store this information any more than our computers need to store the contents of the Web-in each case, under normal circumstances, we can obtain the information on demand, whether by looking at the person standing in front of us by accessing sites on the Internet.” (139)

    “Scientists, architects, and hedge fund managers are respected, but weather forecasters are parodied. Yet weather forecasters have fewer illusions about their own knowledge than do members of these other professions.” (146)

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