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The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity
Posted: 11 August 2009 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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thoswm - 11 August 2009 04:25 PM

Don’t these examples prove what is capable of happening?  These are rare, not once in a lifetime occurrences.  Pilots do have high standards but as I said, those pilots were trained to do that.  That wasn’t the result of a bad pilot, but rather bad training.  One could conclude that those events were not only capable of occurring again in a similar situation by a similarly trained pilot, but likely to occur again.

Only if you also assume that they don’t change the training regime after such an accident, and I’d submit that is not a likely assumption. Or if you assume, once again, that the single example is somehow representative of poor training generally. Again, I’d submit that that is not a likely assumption.

So using this example appears to be an irrational form of overestimating the probability of disaster from one outlier.

thoswm - 11 August 2009 04:25 PM

I feel that it is rational to have a fear of something that could potentially kill you, but irrational for something with no factual basis.  Occam’s example was excellent in that sense.  My original examples fit this as well, such as a fear of puppies.  Being afraid that the sun is going to fall out of the sky or that you will ride a white horse to Heaven when Jesus returns to commit mass genocide, these are irrational.

Yes, these are all irrational. But the issue is not simply having a fear of something that could potentially kill you. (I recall reading that more people die slipping in the bathtub each year than in air disasters. So in that sense, you should be afraid of taking a bath. It could potentially kill you). The issue is one of having a relative fear that A is more likely to kill you than B so you should avoid A and choose B.

This is only reasonable if in fact A is more likely to kill you than B. In the case we were discussing, this is not in fact true.

thoswm - 11 August 2009 04:25 PM

Car accidents are easy to predict.  If you see someone speeding towards a red light, if people do not drive cautiously in the rain or snow, if it is foggy out, if you are at a blind intersection, if you see someone swerving or taking a corner too fast, if you’re sharing the road with teenagers texting on their iPhones, if a ball rolls into the road (you must assume a child is chasing it), etc.  These are things that all potentially cause accidents.  Given these conditions, you could reasonably conclude that you should probably drive with extreme caution and be ready to react.  If you do drive cautiously in these conditions and are ready to react, then you could potentially avoid the accident.

The same is true for any sort of accident. If conditions are bad, if you can’t see well, if you are working at or beyond the normal envelope, if you are distracted, etc., you are more likely to have an accident. That’s true for cars, planes, boats, walking down the street or taking a bath. So I don’t think that helps you distinguish between potential actions, unless you have a prior reason to believe that these bad circumstances will likely hold with one but not the other.

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Posted: 11 August 2009 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Only if you also assume that they don’t change the training regime after such an accident, and I’d submit that is not a likely assumption. Or if you assume, once again, that the single example is somehow representative of poor training generally. Again, I’d submit that that is not a likely assumption.

So using this example appears to be an irrational form of overestimating the probability of disaster from one outlier.

Of course they would change the training, but you cannot possibly expect that amount of retraining to happen overnight.  This also indicates that it is possible that there could be other flaws in their training.  Their record does not suggest this, but it is not really possible to tell until an accident like this happens.

It’s not overestimating the probability, but rather an ignorance over which plane is doomed.  I’m not going to play Russian Roulette, because I don’t know which chamber has the bullet, even though I know the odds are in my favor.  I know that the odds are incredibility greater for fatality, but let’s assume the same odds apply.  Let’s say there is a great big box of guns and only a few of them contain one bullet each.  I would not play the game for the risk of death in favor of gaining some sort of reward.

Yes, these are all irrational. But the issue is not simply having a fear of something that could potentially kill you. (I recall reading that more people die slipping in the bathtub each year than in air disasters. So in that sense, you should be afraid of taking a bath. It could potentially kill you). The issue is one of having a relative fear that A is more likely to kill you than B so you should avoid A and choose B.

This is only reasonable if in fact A is more likely to kill you than B. In the case we were discussing, this is not in fact true.

The same is true for any sort of accident. If conditions are bad, if you can’t see well, if you are working at or beyond the normal envelope, if you are distracted, etc., you are more likely to have an accident. That’s true for cars, planes, boats, walking down the street or taking a bath. So I don’t think that helps you distinguish between potential actions, unless you have a prior reason to believe that these bad circumstances will likely hold with one but not the other.

You are judging rationality based solely off of statistics, which I agree is important.  But you are ignoring the role that human experience plays.  When trying to reason, people look at their own experiences along with statistics.  That’s why people aren’t afraid to drive cars, take showers or walk down the street.  The person who I know that has flown the most has only flown three times, four if you include the time when he was the pilot.  That same person drives, showers, and walks down the road everyday.  He has a very good survival rate from doing these activities that he engages in constantly.  There is an issue of security in familiarity that you are not recognizing as a factor to determining what is rational.

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Posted: 11 August 2009 06:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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thoswm - 11 August 2009 05:59 PM

This also indicates that it is possible that there could be other flaws in their training.

This was the case even before this accident occurred. Indeed, it’s also the case with people learning to drive. So it’s irrelevant to distinguishing flying from driving.

thoswm - 11 August 2009 05:59 PM

You are judging rationality based solely off of statistics, which I agree is important.  But you are ignoring the role that human experience plays.  When trying to reason, people look at their own experiences along with statistics.

Right, I ignore it because it is irrational.

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Posted: 11 August 2009 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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dougsmith - 11 August 2009 06:01 PM
thoswm - 11 August 2009 05:59 PM
thoswm - 11 August 2009 05:59 PM

You are judging rationality based solely off of statistics, which I agree is important.  But you are ignoring the role that human experience plays.  When trying to reason, people look at their own experiences along with statistics.

Right, I ignore it because it is irrational.

Then I’m not sure if we could come to an agreement.  I think ignoring human experience is irrational.  If you ignore human experience and history, then you are doomed to make the same mistakes.

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Posted: 11 August 2009 06:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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thoswm - 11 August 2009 06:08 PM

Then I’m not sure if we could come to an agreement.  I think ignoring human experience is irrational.  If you ignore human experience and history, then you are doomed to make the same mistakes.

I don’t mean you ignore human experience generally, I mean that when human experience conflicts with carefully gathered statistics, it is irrational to depend on the human experience. I would say that this is one of the first and most important features of any scientific skepticism.

A prime example is with human testimonials for medicines. If you follow the testimonials (which embody stated human experiences) you would believe that homeopathic drugs are effective at curing disease. If you follow the statistics and the science, you know that they cannot. Same with UFOs, ghosts and bigfoot.

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Posted: 11 August 2009 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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dougsmith - 11 August 2009 06:18 PM
thoswm - 11 August 2009 06:08 PM

Then I’m not sure if we could come to an agreement.  I think ignoring human experience is irrational.  If you ignore human experience and history, then you are doomed to make the same mistakes.

I don’t mean you ignore human experience generally, I mean that when human experience conflicts with carefully gathered statistics, it is irrational to depend on the human experience. I would say that this is one of the first and most important features of any scientific skepticism.

A prime example is with human testimonials for medicines. If you follow the testimonials (which embody stated human experiences) you would believe that homeopathic drugs are effective at curing disease. If you follow the statistics and the science, you know that they cannot. Same with UFOs, ghosts and bigfoot.

Then I apologize.  I misunderstood what you meant.  However, I still think that the individual’s personal experience plays a large role along with statistics.  I see conflicting statistics all the time.  The other day, I watched a CNN video on YouTube where one of their “experts” claimed that something like only 3% of the U.S. population is atheist/nonreligious.  Most people think that CNN is a reputable news source (unless they watch Fox News).  Also, human experience in this scenario is far different, and much more reliable for obvious reasons, than that of testimonials. 

I’m also not saying that there has to be a conflict with statistics.  For these two to conflict you would have to use your experiences to declare the statistics false and driving the safer of the two.  I’ll agree that this isn’t rational.  But, if you understand that flying is safer but decide against it because of personal reasons or past experiences, then I would think that would be rational.

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Posted: 11 August 2009 07:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Individual experience is fraught with problems in making rational judgments.  While I agree it is not to be ignored entirely, it must be taken in proper context. 
I see this repeatedly in my work when I attempt to disabuse someone of their irrational thoughts regarding health concerns.  Examples:  “I have a cough like this every year and I need anti-biotics to get better. ”  “My friend had back pain and he had a ruptured disk and needed surgery, I need an MRI for my back pain”.  These statements in and of themselves are not necessarily irrational.  They are, however, when you consider that even after a lengthy explanation, or repeated explanations to the same individual on multiple occasions, they continue to hold these beliefs.

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Posted: 12 August 2009 06:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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thoswm - 11 August 2009 06:51 PM

Then I apologize.  I misunderstood what you meant.  However, I still think that the individual’s personal experience plays a large role along with statistics.  I see conflicting statistics all the time.  The other day, I watched a CNN video on YouTube where one of their “experts” claimed that something like only 3% of the U.S. population is atheist/nonreligious.  Most people think that CNN is a reputable news source (unless they watch Fox News).  Also, human experience in this scenario is far different, and much more reliable for obvious reasons, than that of testimonials. 

I’m also not saying that there has to be a conflict with statistics.  For these two to conflict you would have to use your experiences to declare the statistics false and driving the safer of the two.  I’ll agree that this isn’t rational.

No reason to apologize. grin

Sure, there are conflicting uses of statistics. It will depend on what the statistics measure (often two supposedly conflicting statistics are actually measuring slightly different things), or poor experimental design, or statistical noise, or simple error. But again, I don’t think any of that is at issue with the present discussion, although of course you are right that one has to take care to be sure that the statistics are as they are claimed.

thoswm - 11 August 2009 06:51 PM

But, if you understand that flying is safer but decide against it because of personal reasons or past experiences, then I would think that would be rational.

I am wondering how you define “rational”. Because the case you present is, I would submit, a paradigmatic example of irrationality. It is equating a statistically irrelevant sample size (one’s own set of experiences) with a statistically relevant sample size.

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Posted: 12 August 2009 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Although I agree with dougsmith on this one I fall into thoswm’s camp in my thinking. I am far more relaxed when driving or riding in a good car with a driver I trust than when flying on a commercial airliner. I know I am safer in the airplane. My mind has the facts. I’ve read the studies, but I still get nervous at takeoff and landing. I am comfortable doing 130 mph on a motorcycle on a race track, but break out in a sweat at takeoff on a commercial flight.

Irrational? Very, but that is how my mind works.

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Posted: 12 August 2009 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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fotobits - 12 August 2009 06:35 AM

Although I agree with dougsmith on this one I fall into thoswm’s camp in my thinking. I am far more relaxed when driving or riding in a good car with a driver I trust than when flying on a commercial airliner. I know I am safer in the airplane. My mind has the facts. I’ve read the studies, but I still get nervous at takeoff and landing. I am comfortable doing 130 mph on a motorcycle on a race track, but break out in a sweat at takeoff on a commercial flight.

Irrational? Very, but that is how my mind works.

Agreed.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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dougsmith - 12 August 2009 06:24 AM
thoswm - 11 August 2009 06:51 PM

But, if you understand that flying is safer but decide against it because of personal reasons or past experiences, then I would think that would be rational.

I am wondering how you define “rational”. Because the case you present is, I would submit, a paradigmatic example of irrationality. It is equating a statistically irrelevant sample size (one’s own set of experiences) with a statistically relevant sample size.

I see rational as being sensible, or capable of reasoning.  I feel that denying the facts and concluding that driving is safer is irrational because it is purely ignorant.  I would think that if a person had a bad experience or maybe multiple bad experiences then it would be sensible for that person to no longer want to fly.  If a person was on a flight that suffered a landing gear malfunction and was forced to land without it, causing the plane to catch fire, or if they were unable to reach an airport and landed in a body of water, I would not call that person irrational for not wanting to fly again.  It is the same for driving if someone was in a terrible accident.  It takes time for most to get behind the wheel again, but it’s far easier than getting on a plane again since driving is a part of our everyday lives.  I think that a fear of flying, or even sailing for that matter, is completely rational given the fact that we have evolved as land animals.  It is completely sensible for people to feel safer on the ground.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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thoswm - 13 August 2009 02:09 PM

If a person was on a flight that suffered a landing gear malfunction and was forced to land without it, causing the plane to catch fire, or if they were unable to reach an airport and landed in a body of water, I would not call that person irrational for not wanting to fly again.

Then we are using the word differently. By “irrational” I mean “not justifiable by reasoned argument”. You appear to mean “not justifiable by emotional reaction”.

Of course, I don’t believe that your definition of “rational” is itself justifiable.

thoswm - 13 August 2009 02:09 PM

I think that a fear of flying, or even sailing for that matter, is completely rational given the fact that we have evolved as land animals.  It is completely sensible for people to feel safer on the ground.

Why should the way we have evolved make any difference? We didn’t evolve to use socks, either. Does that make it rational to fear socks?

Let’s take another case. Some people claim that our fear of snakes is an evolved trait. Let’s assume it is. Nevertheless, it is irrational to fear snakes which one knows are tame and non-poisonous. If someone has a latent fear of a garter snake, that is an irrational fear, borne of evolution.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 04:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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dougsmith - 13 August 2009 02:24 PM
thoswm - 13 August 2009 02:09 PM

If a person was on a flight that suffered a landing gear malfunction and was forced to land without it, causing the plane to catch fire, or if they were unable to reach an airport and landed in a body of water, I would not call that person irrational for not wanting to fly again.

Then we are using the word differently. By “irrational” I mean “not justifiable by reasoned argument”. You appear to mean “not justifiable by emotional reaction”.

Of course, I don’t believe that your definition of “rational” is itself justifiable.

thoswm - 13 August 2009 02:09 PM

I think that a fear of flying, or even sailing for that matter, is completely rational given the fact that we have evolved as land animals.  It is completely sensible for people to feel safer on the ground.

Why should the way we have evolved make any difference? We didn’t evolve to use socks, either. Does that make it rational to fear socks?

Let’s take another case. Some people claim that our fear of snakes is an evolved trait. Let’s assume it is. Nevertheless, it is irrational to fear snakes which one knows are tame and non-poisonous. If someone has a latent fear of a garter snake, that is an irrational fear, borne of evolution.

Perhaps my view of rational is irrational.  confused

Even if it is not reasonable to base decisions off of emotions, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect anyone to be capable of basing decisions off of statistics alone.  Humans are emotional creatures.  Based on your idea of what is rational, I think it is irrational to believe that people are capable of even being rational.

It is evident that we have evolved as a ground species.  I’m not sure it would be so easy to prove that we have evolved to fear snakes.  That seems to make it unreasonable to compare since we do not know if that is the case.  I don’t think it is at all justified to compare flying with that of wearing socks.  I also don’t think it compares to having a fear of a non venomous snake.  Planes can kill you.  Garter snakes and socks can’t kill you.  This does compare to an earlier statement that I made about it being irrational to hold a belief that driving is safer than flying.  I agree that if you have a fear of a snake that you know is not venomous or a constrictor, then that fear is irrational.  If you have an ignorance of the snake, then it is a rational fear since you know that some snakes are venomous, which is similar to having a fear of flying since you know some planes will crash.  Obviously this is similar to car accidents.  The reason why I think it is more reasonable to fear flying and not driving is the fact that we are accustomed to being on the ground and because we are used to driving everyday.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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thoswm - 13 August 2009 04:18 PM

Even if it is not reasonable to base decisions off of emotions, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect anyone to be capable of basing decisions off of statistics alone.  Humans are emotional creatures.  Based on your idea of what is rational, I think it is irrational to believe that people are capable of even being rational.

Ah. But that’s a completely different point, and one I agree with, so long as you mean “... being rational all the time.” Nobody is going to be rational all the time. That’s why I was agreeing with fotobits, above. Nevertheless, it is important to point out where and why people make mistakes in reasoning, so that hopefully some of them can learn from their mistakes and be somewhat less prone to make them in the future. That’s the case even though people are never perfect.

thoswm - 13 August 2009 04:18 PM

I don’t think it is at all justified to compare flying with that of wearing socks.  I also don’t think it compares to having a fear of a non venomous snake.  Planes can kill you.  Garter snakes and socks can’t kill you.  This does compare to an earlier statement that I made about it being irrational to hold a belief that driving is safer than flying.  I agree that if you have a fear of a snake that you know is not venomous or a constrictor, then that fear is irrational.  If you have an ignorance of the snake, then it is a rational fear since you know that some snakes are venomous, which is similar to having a fear of flying since you know some planes will crash.  Obviously this is similar to car accidents.  The reason why I think it is more reasonable to fear flying and not driving is the fact that we are accustomed to being on the ground and because we are used to driving everyday.

Well, but wearing socks on a slippery floor can increase your chances of falling, and you can die from a fall. Similarly, a garter snake is benign and not poisonous, but perhaps if he bit you in the jugular vein you would bleed to death.

Let’s go back to an earlier example: I believe you are more likely to die from slipping in the shower than from flying in an airplane. So if it’s rational to fear flying, then it’s even more rational to fear taking showers. Is this what you want to suppose?

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Posted: 13 August 2009 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Ah. But that’s a completely different point, and one I agree with, so long as you mean “... being rational all the time.” Nobody is going to be rational all the time. That’s why I was agreeing with fotobits, above. Nevertheless, it is important to point out where and why people make mistakes in reasoning, so that hopefully some of them can learn from their mistakes and be somewhat less prone to make them in the future. That’s the case even though people are never perfect.

I agree with this, except the way that I perceive “rational” is the capacity to reason.  If I were in a plane crash and survived, I would have concluded that flying was a mistake for me.  If I viewed flight as the mistake, I could use that to reason in the future that I would prefer driving.

Well, but wearing socks on a slippery floor can increase your chances of falling, and you can die from a fall. Similarly, a garter snake is benign and not poisonous, but perhaps if he bit you in the jugular vein you would bleed to death.

Let’s go back to an earlier example: I believe you are more likely to die from slipping in the shower than from flying in an airplane. So if it’s rational to fear flying, then it’s even more rational to fear taking showers. Is this what you want to suppose?

I don’t because I assert, as I did with earlier posts, that people who are alive to choose not to fly have wonderful survival rates while taking showers.  Experience gives you confidence.  And when you fall while on the ground, you only fall a couple of feet.  The issue here is falling a couple thousand feet.  Besides that, walking, showering, and driving are things that we all have to do.  Flying is not something we have to do (for most of us anyway).  Also, many people have an ignorance over how many deaths occur each year by falling in the shower.  You may read about those in the obituaries, but plane crashes make headline news.  There’s a lot more to with this that needs consideration than just statistics about how many accidents occur each year.

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