If people are irrational, how can we agree on anything?

Question: If people are irrational, how can we agree on anything?


Dan Ariely: Yeah. So it’s actually . . . From the perspective of irrationality, it’s actually very hard for people to reach agreement. If you accept the idea that my reality is different than your reality, how do we fight about the facts? The facts are not something out there. The facts are what we are experiencing. So I think about it from an Israeli’s perspective is will I ever be able to watch an event – a bomb, a terrorist activity, an assassination, anything – and will I truly be able to view it from the same perspective as a Palestinian? And my conclusion is that we wouldn’t. Let me give you a very trivial experiment that can illustrate this. So we give people two glasses of beers to try. One is a regular beer, and one is beer with balsamic vinegar, which we call the MIT brew. And people taste both of those, and we say which one do you like more? Which one do you want the full glass of? It turns out that in this condition, the beer with the balsamic vinegar tastes better to most people so most people go for it. That’s just the objective reality. Now what would happen if we introduced preconception? What would happen if we tell people, “This is regular beer. This is beer with balsamic vinegar. Drink it. Drink as much as you want and then tell us which one you want.” What will happen? Will the preconceptions overwhelm the experience? The answer is yes. Under those conditions, it doesn’t matter how much drink . . . beer people drink. They hate the one with the balsamic vinegar. What’s happening here is when you expect something to be terrible, your mouth is actually tasting it as terrible. Again our expectation changes our physiology. We see something different. You know it’s something that every sports fan always sees, right? It’s always that the referee is against your sports team. And if somebody else is sitting in the room and they are a fan of a different sports team, they are saying the referee is doing the opposite. Now if you take this seriously, what does it mean for two parties – Israeli-Palestinian, whatever it is – sitting together on a table and trying to negotiate? It means that the reality they’re going to negotiate about is going to be colored very differently for each of them. In fact so much that it is going to be impossible to bridge that. So what’s my solution? My solution is that we can’t overcome that. We can’t overcome the power of expectations or an experience. But if we recognize and we admit it, we might be willing to accept that a third party should make more decisions. And in fact instead of arguing about who is right and who is wrong, saying we understand we’re biased. Therefore we’re going to give it to a third party to make a decision for us.


Question: Is it possible to divorce emotion from decision?


Dan Ariely: So the moment they take hold, there’s no . . . there’s no way back.  So if you think about emotions, if I sit now here and I think about the future, I create a situation where I would not be tempted.  For example I usually try not to eat dessert at restaurants.  But when the waiter comes with the dessert tray, I always fall into temptation.  Now if I right now go to a restaurant and I say to the waiter, “Don’t show me the dessert tray”, I can overcome emotion.  But it’s a trick around emotion.  If he comes anyway with the desert tray, it’s going to be very, very hard to overcome it.


Recorded on Feb 19 2008



If my reality is different than your reality, how do we fight about the facts?

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.