Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at
Sun Dec 19 06:15:45 EST 2004

I'm not keeping up with the discussion on the list, much as I'd like to. But
I do feel I ought to apologize to Dorian, I didn't mean to come off half as
snippy as I may have, and the "obviously super-intelligent" bit was meant in
all sincerity. This particular discussion is pushing some of my hot buttons,
that's all it is. My mother's life work has to do with studying heuristics
and biases that people employ when judging the world, for instance, when
assessing the risk involved in a particular course of action. She belongs to
a group of cognitive psychologists who study what's going on in people's
minds when they *think* they're being logical, and actually aren't being
logical at all (not necessarily wrong, mind you, just not logical). The
human tendency to look for patterns in stimuli is a crucial tendency and
part of what makes us human - it is often very useful indeed. But our
instincts can lead us to see patterns where it can be proven that there are
none. Sometimes we see the patterns so strongly that no amount of reasoning
will convince us that the patterns aren't there: just as optical illusions
can be so strong, that they trick our eyes even when we know what's actually
going on.

For years my mother's been dealing with all sorts of examples of situations
where you can go blue in the face explaining to people logically that there
is no pattern, and they'll follow your explanation every step of the way,
but simply not be able to accept the conclusion. As Red Auerbach, coach for
the Boston Celtics, said when confronted with a study that proved
analytically that there is no such phenomenon of as a "hot hand" in
basketball: "but of course there is a hot hand!" And most basketball fans
will vehemently agree, no matter what the statistics show.

In other words, I meant nothing personal when I jumped all over you, Dorian:
it's just the result of years of conditioning to pounce on particular kinds
of flaws in particular kinds of arguments. And yes, I did mean "you" in a
general way, not specifically Dorian. In fact I could have written "we" and
come off less patronising, because what I was pointing out is a way of
interpreting data and/or stimuli that I truly believe to be part of human
nature, common to all people. Or at least, all normal human people. I
suppose Vulcans might go about things differently. Please accept my apology.


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