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

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

\r\n

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.

\r\n

Question: Is it possible to divorce emotion from decision?

\r\n

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.

\r\n

Recorded on Feb 19 2008

\r\n

 

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

Think of the closest planet to Earth... Wrong! Think again!

Three scientists publish paper proving that not Venus but Mercury is the closest planet to Earth

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbour must be planet two of four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbour is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

10 novels that brilliantly capture the American experience

The distance between the American dream and reality is expressed best through literature.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Literature expands our ability to feel empathy and inspires compassion.
  • These ten novels tackle some facet of the American experience.
  • The list includes a fictional retelling of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard and hiding out in inner city Newark.
Keep reading Show less