How to Beat the Planning Fallacy


One widely useful mental habit that we teach in our class at the Center for Applied Rationality is called reference class forecasting, and it's for the most part, in the literature, been tested with reference to something called the planning fallacy, which is nearly universal.  When we're planning how long it's going to take us to finish a project like a term paper or how long it's going to take and how much it's going to cost to build a bridge we systematically underestimate the total expenditure of time or money.  

So reference class forecasting is a relatively simple correction you can make that leads to much more realistic estimates and all it is, is asking yourself instead of how long do I think it should take you ask yourself how long do things like this tend to take people. For instance, it's going to be even more reliable information if you can think of how long has it taken me in the past to tackle term papers like this.

While reference class forecasting is especially useful for countering the planning fallacy, it can also be really useful for countering things like the mind projection fallacy where you assume that other people must be thinking like you.  It can be really hard to shake the sense of like well they should feel like this because that's how I would feel in their situation, but if you can think of examples of people in similar situations in the past and think of how they've reacted that can help counter your intuitive erroneous sense of how they should react in this situation.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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